Coffee Community Comes Together in the Face of Catastrophe

See how coffee companies across the nation have responded to local and national tragedies to strengthen their communities.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Before the November 7 shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill and the destruction wrought by the Woolsey Fire, Thousand Oaks, Calif., was best-known for its numerous public parks, sleepy, suburban strip malls, and as one of America’s safest communities. Tragedies such as these have a way of defining others’ perceptions of a place (you only need to pay attention to what comes to mind the next time someone mentions “Sandy Hook” or “Columbine” to get my point); however, how a town responds in the face of adversity provides a clearer picture of its character.

In the wake of destruction and loss in Thousand Oaks, stories of incredible selflessness have continued to emerge. Neighbors looking after one another. Churches holding memorial services for victims and providing daycare for children whose schools had been closed on account of raging wildfires. And, finally, neighborhood coffee shops stepping into roles beyond simply making beverages to order.

As baristas, we often talk about being part of the coffee community. At face value, we understand what that means: acquiring coffee knowledge, working with and knowing others in the industry, perfecting our pours, and attending competitions and throwdowns. Yet as with any other real community, membership actually requires something more from us. As I heard stories of how local coffee people moved beyond the espresso bar, actively using their training to serve and comfort the broader community, I began to see three common categories of response: listening, serving, and receiving.


The morning after the shooting (November 8) at Borderline Bar & Grill, owners of Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters Shawn and Sarah Pritchett posted an invitation on their social media accounts: “We are here as a place for you to be if you just need to be around people.” It was a simple and beautiful signal to the surrounding community, acknowledging a need and proactively providing an outlet for those who had suffered loss: the death of a friend, a sense of insecurity, or not knowing how respond.


By that afternoon, a community in mourning was put on alert yet again, as reports of wind-driven and amply fueled fires began to circulate. The quick-moving flames forced the closure of the 101 freeway. Many residents were told to evacuate while others were prevented from returning home due to road closures. In the midst of this uncertainty and chaos, local coffee shops stepped in, organizing and delivering brewed coffee to first responders and people displaced by the fires. They rallied together with nonprofits and local businesses, posting needs on social media and providing food.

Five07 Coffee Bar and Eatery’s Instagram post immediately following the shooting at Borderline Bar & Grill and at the start of the Woolsey Fire. (Image courtesy of Five07’s Instagram account).

Five07 Coffee Bar and Eatery, owned by Sean and Amber McCarthy, is a popular hangout for college students in Thousand Oaks, including many from California Lutheran University, one of the many colleges with students at Borderline during the shooting. The shop helped sell T-shirts, the proceeds of which went toward supporting victims of the shooting and their families. During the fires, they also rallied together with customers and friends, posting to social media a request for volunteers to deliver coffee to first responders and evacuees. They received help from 40 individuals in two short hours—resulting in over 600 cups of coffee being delivered to those most in need of a boost or some comfort.

Similarly, the folks at Ragamuffin received permission, despite being under mandatory evacuation, to stay open after the worst of the fire had passed—all in the name of “presenting some normalcy” for a community that had experienced an anything-but-normal couple of days. Teammates worked alongside the staff of World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters, which utilized the kitchen facilities of another nonprofit, Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families.

A Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters staff member delivering coffee to fire crews defending their community from the Woolsey Fire. (Image courtesy of Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters’ Instagram account)


When a community works together, it can create a ripple effect—concentric circles of goodwill. For their acts of kindness in the form of coffee donations, Ragamuffin received in return nearly 140 pounds of green coffee beans from Sustainable Harvest. Also moved by the shop’s generosity, first responders themselves took up a collection to help cover some of Ragamuffin’s costs.

Over a week after the shooting and fires, a regular customer, inspired by what Five07 had done to help, asked the McCarthys if they would help him host a memorial and benefit concert. Through those efforts, along with donations made by Five07, $3,000 was raised for affected families.

Cat & Cloud has received an overwhelming response for their Friend Blend, with $5 of their proceeds going to fire victims in California. (Image courtesy of Cat & Cloud’s Instagram account)

Farther north, but equally moved by the suffering of their fellow Californians, Santa Cruz-based Cat & Cloud and Dune Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara decided to do a collaboration blend (50/50 Brazil and Colombia). Proceeds from their Friend Blend, $5 from every bag, will go to support victims of not only the Woolsey and Hill Fires in Southern California but also the unimaginably destructive Camp Fire farther north. The response, in a word, has been overwhelming, with every bag being spoken for within the week and plans in motion to roast more.

In an age where we can follow and subscribe ourselves to just about any kind of group or be part of such-and-such “nation”, it is rather easy to forget that true community is not simply something you join with one click of the mouse. It is less about what we say we are a part of, and more about what we do in that community that matters most. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” It’s truly wonderful when people get this—when words and action are one in the same—and you see the people in your community taking the lead when others are in need.

Jason Huffnagle is a freelance writer for Barista Magazine who has worked in coffee as a barista for six years. Having left his “adult job” in the U.S. Senate, the Alaska native spent several months traveling throughout Europe. You can read about his coffee-fueled travels and other exploits by following him at @jasonhuffnagle on Twitter.

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