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Paying it forward with kindness and caffeine

Some customers at The Electric Brew don’t just buy one cup of coffee. They buy two — or three, or four — and anonymously give the extras to someone they’ve never met.

The Brew, at 118 E. Washington Street in Goshen, started its suspended coffee program in March, after owners Myron and Dana Bontrager got word of a way for coffee-drinkers to “pay it forward.”

If you weren’t looking for the small sign with metal tokens by the counter, you might almost miss them. But the initiative is gaining momentum, barista Lindsey Monge said.

Any customer can purchase an extra cup coffee for the initiative — each cup counts for one token, stacked on two nails next to the explanatory sign. When someone who can’t afford to pay (or who is short on change or forgot a wallet) comes in, they can cash in a token for a free coffee.

“The first time a customer used the program, they were amazed that you could get a cup of coffee for free,” said Monge, who has worked at the Brew for more than a year. “When we give the token, some people almost look like they’re going to tear up.”

Monge estimates about three cups of free coffee are given out daily from their four daily varieties. Several people in the area take advantage of the program on a regular basis.

“That’s a testament to how helpful the program is,” Monge said. “They can get coffee even if they don’t have the money to pay for it. We try to be very welcoming. There’s no judgment — it’s an easy process.”

The Brew’s suspended program is unique to the area, to Monge’s knowledge, but the tradition started in Italy more than 700 years ago; it’s called a caffè sospeso. Similar programs now exist in coffee shops across the county.

As the sign says, it’s about more than just coffee.

“The most important thing is having a community that supports it,” Monge said. “More people purchase suspended coffee than use the program. Lots of community members want to contribute, which I think is unique to this area. You can’t have this program without that.”

Kyle Koch of Goshen has purchased two or three cups of suspended coffee since he heard about the initiative.

He does so “just to be a blessing to someone,” Koch said. “It’s an opportunity for a random act of kindness, which you don’t see much of these days. It’s kind of a light in the darkness.”

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