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The power of hot coffee when you’re homeless

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We New Yorkers love our coffee. It keeps us going when the city wears us down. Especially when the days get darker and colder, it can give us the stamina to keep going. At The Bowery Mission, we believe a simple act of kindness can go a long way. That’s why we make sure to have fresh, hot coffee available to our guests each morning. 

Raffaele DePalma, Executive Chef at The Bowery Mission, says coffee is just one small part of the Mission’s value for hospitality. And it becomes extra important when it’s freezing out and people have been sleeping rough on the street all night.  

“It gives you that little boost you need when you know you have to go right back out again and deal with the world,” says Chef Raffaele, who is himself a graduate of The Bowery Mission’s Residential Program for men.

“We all love a hot drink and a little caffeine in the morning, but coffee is more than that — it’s also a daily routine that can keep you grounded. It can restore a sense of normalcy even when the world around you is falling apart.”

Guest smiling

Executive Chef Raffaele DePalma, second from left, with fellow members of The Bowery Mission’s staff

When you’re going through the motions, something as simple as a cup of coffee can make you feel alive again. — Chef Raffaele

At The Bowery Mission, coffee is also an important way to foster a sense of camaraderie and community. For anyone who feels alone or marginalized, being welcomed in for a hot drink and a friendly conversation can help you feel connected to others again.

The Bowery Mission’s coffee tradition dates all the way back to its founding. In the 1890s, the Mission established a restaurant where anyone who was poor or homeless could eat at a nominal cost. For five cents — the equivalent of $1.79 today — guests could enjoy “a bowl of coffee, three slices of bread, oatmeal and milk, or pork and beans, beef stew or cornbeef hash.” 

In the early 1900s, the Mission opened its famous midnight bread line to serve a winter influx of seasonal workers on our streets. On our busiest nights, we served hot coffee and rolls to more than 2,000 “breadliners.”

Embed from Getty Images

Coffee served at The Bowery Mission, circa 1899. From Getty Images.

Men lined up to receive coffee at The Bowery Mission, circa 1900. From Library of Congress.

Men lined up to receive coffee at The Bowery Mission, circa 1900. From Library of Congress.

Today, The Bowery Mission continues to serve an estimated 30-40 pounds of coffee a day, which translates to roughly 500 to 550 cups. ”Because it’s such an important part of our culture, and we need it in such large quantities, coffee is always one of our top donation needs,” says Chef Raffaele. “We’re always looking for companies to partner with us in this area. My dream would be to get 1,000 pounds of donated coffee a month.”

Guest smiling

Get involved

Volunteers are a vital part of hospitality at The Bowery Mission, helping provide relief to neighbors coming through our Red Doors. You can make a difference by helping us serve up hot meals and steaming cups of coffee. Learn more and register to volunteer.

We’re grateful for our corporate partners who help supply the thousands of pounds of bulk coffee we need each year for our guests. See how your company can partner with The Bowery Mission to provide coffee, or learn about other partnership opportunities.