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Good Coffee and Good Hearts in Glen Eden

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A variation on the Waitakere Way, the international power of coffee and a family’s commitment to helping those less fortunate than themselves, is coming together in Glen Eden to help children and their families both in India and at home.

And if you’re a coffee drinker, you can help by doing no more than letting that silky beverage slide down your grateful throat, because each coffee produces profits that can be put to work for the good of less fortunate people.

Jason Baird first discovered India on church trips to that country, but he later returned with his wife, Linda and three of their (now) four children, at the beginning of a journey that would see them, in partnership with an Auckland charity called Give Hope, set up a home for children he thought at first, were orphans. This orphanage is located in East India’s Araku Valley, midway between Calcutta and Chennai and 200km inland.

In time, they discovered that the children were actually “semi-orphans”. Generally their families had lost the father because he’d died, was out of work, or sick or “had scarpered”. In a land where social welfare is unknown, this often leaves mothers with no choice but to give their children up to care as orphans.

Clearly quick on their feet, Jason and Linda realised semiorphans presented opportunity. Rather than bring children into care, why not do something to create local businesses, micro-enterprises that would enable the families to stay together and provide for themselves?

Now, the ambitions of the Bairds and Give Hope stretch to building three homes for children who really do need care, either short or long term, and to stimulate small businesses that will allow fractured families to stay together and fend for themselves.

On a subsequent visit to India, Jason saw a solution. He spotted a coffee plantation and was struck with a brainwave. Coffee is one of the social bonds in the developed world. Why didn’t they create a coffee business back home, to provide the funding the children’s homes needed and also help the families create micro-enterprises for themselves?

Now, a whole new idea began to gel. On the one hand, they could create the micro-business economy while the coffee business back in New Zealand, partnering with Give Hope would build and sustain not one but three homes: one for boys, one for girls and one for children with disabilities. All up, these will cater for around 36 children.

So, the family went into business with a coffee cart while converting a shop in the block on the corner of Shetland and Glengarry Roads, in Glen Eden, into a new kind of cafe.

It won’t be a cheap coffee. Jason insists on using high quality beans that he roasts himself, but nobody seems to mind when they discover the good the profits will do. Food, however, will be different. He wants that to be affordable so that a young family can afford a cafe treat. A family man himself he knows how expensive cafes can be for parents with a young family to provide for. So, Jason’s idea is that the food will be tasty, inexpensive and almost certainly include an Indian dimension.

They have adopted the name Sozo for their brand. A reasonable translation is freedom” and for Jason it is double-edged; drinking a good coffee represents a few moments of freedom, and that freedom helps to provide freedom for the children of the Araku area. The cafe is more likely to be called The Biggest Little Local” which will probably get shortened to “The Local”.

Already, just with the cart, they are funding the existing home in India and are paying for the interior fit-out of the cafe, which will open probably late November or early December.

When we caught up with Jason, he was helping two local tradesmen who’ve volunteered their time to build the interior, “up-cycling” old building materials to do it. We stood ankle deep in dust and shavings as Brenton Freeman and Matthew Fetherston planed lengths of kwila decking rescued from a nearby deck. Part of the interior wall is already lined with kwila rescued from the Oratia Settlers’ Hall.

There’s hardly a business in sight at the cafe, just street after street of houses. This is suburbia, full of families; not the corporate hordes of business districts, but ordinary folks who, like anybody else, look forward to a good coffee, an affordable snack, a place to gather and company to socialise with.

And as magic usually happens around people like Jason, magic is happening. A community hub is already forming and the cafe isn’t even open. Viral marketing is at work. Locals are dropping by for coffee and networking.

Social events centred on the cafe, seem a real possibility to widen its involvement in the community and extend its popularity as a “local”. People will undoubtedly pay a premium for very good coffee knowing that profits will flow to charitable good works. Some will want to help but nobody must feel obliged. It is enough that they will come for a good time, good coffee, food and company. Anything more is up to them.

Meanwhile Jason’s charitably opportunistic nose is already twitching at what good he and the neighbourhood coffee drinkers, might be able to do locally. Among the high decile schools in the area, there is one not nearly as well off. Jason’s mind is already wandering over how the café’s coffee could help the children of that school as well. For now, however, there’s a cafe to finish
and open.

Keep up with Sozo on Facebook or visit their website.