A Johannesburg coffee shop created a “Pay it Forward” wall in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, but the story about how it started… and how the community keeps it alive is absolutely inspirational!
Johannesburg, South Africa (09 February 2021) – A Johannesburg coffee shop‘s “Pay It Forward” campaign is going viral on social media and inspiring others with the concept.
It’s something we have seen many times, all over the globe and in many different formats but the story behind this coffee shop, and why they started a “pay it forward” campaign is giving us all the feels.
When starting the business in 2017, Neil and Samantha Golding’s had just been through a year of serious trauma with their newborn. Ava was born in Feb 2016 and had serious health complications for her first year. Her health issues led to Neil ending his current business endeavours in brand strategy, tech, and sponsorship acquisition, and taking a year off work to be present as a dad and husband and lead their family forward.
“Given Ava’s health complexities and the associated costs, we needed to lighten our load and sell off almost all our possessions – house, cars, furniture etc. – to provide cash flow for the medical bills and to help sustain us.”
Late in 2016 after seeing a specialist in Cape Town, the family had a horrific attempted hijacking in Stellenbosch, and after returning to Jozi, their daughter’s condition began to improve.
Neil’s life, however, began spiralling out of control and he was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety in November that year, caused by the trauma experienced throughout the year with him being in and out of the hospital with our daughter and almost losing her on several occasions, coupled with the hijacking.
“As a PTSD sufferer already my brain wasn’t functioning correctly. PTSD was caused by repetitive trauma after surviving the Asian Tsunami in Thailand in 2004, losing the ability to walk from a roof collapsing on me, losing a girlfriend in a car accident, surviving a life-threatening lung infection and coma in Nigeria, losing my business partner/best friend to diabetes (all of the episodes occurring in 2005), surviving heart failure in Brazil in 2008 and lastly surviving an armed robbery and shootout at our house in 2015.”
After being diagnosed with his mental condition in November 2017, Neil attempted suicide but was thankfully unsuccessful.
By January 2017, the family had run out of money, Neil’s brain wasn’t functioning, they were declared bankrupt, and the breadwinner of the house was declared unfit for work. One Saturday in February 2017 they discovered Riversands Farm Village and came across a small garage being run as a farm coffee shop. Two weeks later, he was volunteering and learning how to make coffee and two weeks after that through a series of events, the family took over the garage and launched DC Coffee Co.
“We had no money, we had much against us, but we had a passion and dream to attempt something new and believed that we could build something significant. Our year of trials had changed us for the better, and we had a chance to rebuild a simpler life from the ground up.”
While Neil wasn’t able to work with his brain as a strategist to earn money any longer, he could work with his hands and feet and begin serving people through a cup of coffee. This was also a demonstration of his faith as Christians.
“As we did, we began developing a true love for people, serving them and identifying and developing connections. Coffee, we believed, was a powerful tool to connect with people – being the second most consumed beverage daily – and coffee combined with a personal and fun customer experience, meant that we were given an opportunity to truly make people’s days through something as simple as coffee, whether it be in a quick 2-minute grab-and-go or through a few hours in-store.”
Fast forward a year and the Goldings launched their physical store in Pineslopes and moved across full-time.
They wanted to create an environment that felt like home, and they wanted to run a business that had deep roots in the community and was focused on being a blessing to our community.
“Because of this, we set the store up as a Non-Profit Coffee Shop with the aim of channelling as much of the resources derived through the business back into our local community. We wanted customers to feel that their support of our business, was not building wealth for a few but was rather being invested back into community projects and partnerships with a host of local businesses and organisations committed to improving our surroundings – whether that be from education, environmental, social or business creation perspective.”
Immediately it was clear that they were becoming a coffee shop for their community and one that was being “owned” by the community. Their purpose was focussed around “Brewing Kindness” and ensuring that the kindness modelled by them, would mobilise others to be kind in a similar way to those around them. Their store is based on 3 key pillars; coffee, community and conversation!
“Coffee is what brings people into our store at first. This is our social currency. As people come in (physically or online), we quickly find ways to integrate them into our community and what we stand for. As we do so, we trust that they will become invigorated and activated to walk in a way of kindness as we provide opportunities and platforms for them to be involved. Lastly, through conversations, we have the ability to speak life into people, provide hope and demonstrate love. By creating a “safe space”, people come in knowing they can be themselves and treat our environment as their home and family away from home, irrespective of their backgrounds, their beliefs or their personal situations.”
In 2020, when COVID-19 hit, the coffee shop went into the initial stage of lockdown and emerging from it in May 2020, the family knew they had a choice to succumb to the damage being done by the global pandemic to businesses in the hospitality sector or they could rise above it, fight for their community and business and do all they could possible to provide hope, love, and kindness in a time when it was most needed.
“So we did and launched personal deliveries in our area, followed by the drive-through and then sit down as lockdown regulations opened up. We hustled like never before and fought to always focus outwardly on the needs of others and not our own.”
During this time, despite finances, the Goldings wanted to show kindness and be front footed in it, and so they launched their “Pay It Forward” Coffee Wall and a weekly initiative called “Free Coffee Friday”, both of which have continued until now.
Pay It Forward
The reason for the wall was based on 3 fundamentals;
- During Covid, many people were simply struggling (mentally, physically, emotionally or financially) and the Goldings believed a cup of coffee in hand, together with a personal typed tag of encouragement that is attached to all of the cups and lastly packaged with a personalised customer experience could help lift people up and give them a sense of renewed hope in the difficult season and in humanity. They saw the impact that this had on many very quickly.
- The family realised that for many, a cup of decent coffee was a luxury, and why should this be the case? They wanted to bless others, and by giving away a cup of coffee, this had a bigger impact than they could have believed possible. It wasn’t just filtered coffee – they served and serve their finest drinks on offer.
- By giving away free coffee, it created a platform for conversation with people in the community, which led to them finding other ways in which to serve them. Engaging with many battling COVID, they were and have been able to walk an amazing journey together. Most of these relationships still remain, and many of these faces are seen daily.
There was no qualification to redeem a free coffee, but simply stop by, grab a voucher from their Pay It Forward Wall or DM them and they would deliver in our area.
“It was a risk I guess as we felt many would abuse the act of kindness but ironically never did. It was, however, a risk we were happy to take and brewing kindness to as many as we could is what mattered most.”
During this time, they launched a weekly campaign called “Free Coffee Friday” to provide exposure for their Pending Coffee wall, and how it worked was simple – every Friday, they would profile a certain sector or category of people that could be nominated for Free Coffee. As a business, they would pay for it, but the community would nominate people they felt needed this gift.
“We gained massive traction through this and came to see many lives touched in a massive way.”
Categories were vast and included frontline workers, teachers, small business owners, those who had lost jobs, those struggling with mental health issues, those struggling financially, engaged couples who needed to postpone weddings due to lockdown, entertainers and event businesses affected massively by COVID, the travel sector, people just having a rough time and so the list went on.
This campaign continues to date, and in January, they gave away Free Coffee to frontline workers for the full month as a way of saying thank you for their tireless hours on the frontline, working for the health and benefit of others.
“After a couple of months of us paying it forward and hosting Free Coffee Fridays, we were approached by a customer wanting to join our mission and pay it forward personally towards a few friends in need. They also wanted to put up vouchers for strangers as we had been doing. They wanted no recognition for it, but merely the opportunity to bless someone else in need.”
After this initial customer, word spread and so the acts of kindness, and the partnership with other contributors continued.
An ongoing feature in store
Learning from the impact made last year, their Pay It Forward wall has remained a permanent and prominent feature in their store, and they continue to place vouchers on the wall daily in addition to many customers sponsoring vouchers themselves.
Many are given as gifts to specific people – friends, family, co-workers – yet many are available for complete strangers. The vouchers range from free drinks to food items or a Rand amount to spend in-store. As vouchers get redeemed, so new ones replace them. Their wall always seems to be full. While many of the givers may not get to see or meet those who redeem the vouchers, the Goldings get to connect the dots and see the difference that these small acts of kindness make in the lives of others.
“Times are so tough currently, and many just need a small pick-me-up, and these free vouchers do just that. We have also noticed that many who actually receive or redeem vouchers, find a way of paying it forward themselves and so the circle continues. We believe that kindness leads to kindness, and we can honestly say that we have seen this first hand.
While we do have some regulars who redeem vouchers (people who are unemployed or in need of food), they respect the process and strangely don’t abuse the wall. They are always appreciative of the men and women who have paid it forward, and on one occasion, a homeless man actually repaid the favour and blessing given to him.
Life is so busy for most and whilst it seems impossible to make a tangible difference for people, sometimes it’s as simple as a gift of free coffee. The initiation of that kind act enables us to connect with people, love them, serve them and do all we can to make their day. It’s a beautiful partnership between our community and us.”
The vouchers are sold in-store and provide space for a name, the gift being offered, and a personal note (often words of encouragement). The store also facilitates the purchasing of vouchers via WhatsApp requests on 064 535 0734.
As a coffee shop, they also facilitate and engage in monthly campaigns and initiatives to mobilise the community behind causes close to their heart. This is often through our financial contribution as a business from their turnover and the support of their customers – financially or with their time.
The initiatives have included donations to animal shelters & ongoing donations to DogTown SA as they are a pet-friendly store, the distribution of 200 Bags of Hope to 200 women affected by GBV in safe homes across our city, a literacy drive for a disadvantaged primary school in our area late last year, a partnership with Rare Bear SA funding and distributing 178 Rare Bears to kids with Rare Diseases and over the last 2 months raising R30,000 to fund two specialised wheelchairs for The Sweethearts Foundation.
“We are a Coffee Shop with a clear passion and purpose for what we do; to love and serve others, to impact and improve the lives of those in our community by the support of our customers, and to brew as well as demonstrate kindness for others daily.
We invite people to join our mission in Paying it Forward, one cup of coffee at a time.
Keeping it simple. Enjoying the farm life! Providing the finest coffees, fresh pastries and epic workspace. Obsessed with our customers and their experience.”