“Happy Cup demonstrates how one small coffee brewer can make a big difference for people with disabilities.” - Rachel Bloom, Happy Cup Coffee
When Rachel Bloom was considering ways to expand the activities for the non-profit organization, “Full Life” in the Portland area, coffee may not have been the safest choice. Portland is packed with coffee shops, hundreds of them; so many in fact that another one couldn’t hope to stand out. That is, unless you were doing something particularly special for the Portland community, something that was creating jobs for a segment of the population that historically maintains an unacceptably high unemployment rate. With the inception of Happy Cup Coffee, this is exactly what Rachel Bloom did, and it is being met with huge success.
Rachel Bloom taught special education for some time before she came up with her Full Life venture, a nonprofit that focuses on finding jobs for people with disabilities. She didn’t like the odds that many of her students were going to face upon entering the workforce. Many people with disabilities face an uphill struggle with unemployment, which nationally is over 78 percent. As the United States struggles through a stubborn recession, this number is static at best, and more often than not trending upward. But Bloom was not put off by these numbers, and took different steps to provide work for her people (“People with Potential,” as they are called at Full Life) all with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until Happy Cup, however, that things really began to take off.
Happy Cup Coffee Roasting is not even a year old, but it is currently holding its own in one of the most competitive coffee markets in the United States. Bloom opened up shop in February of this year, and after a month already had some serious retail backers behind the label, including Whole Foods Market, New Seasons Market and additional Food Coop stores throughout the Portland-metro area.“We found ourselves in 19 grocery stores in three months,” said Bloom. “We went from zero pounds of coffee in month one to 2,000 pounds in month three.” And while this success is stunning, there is no intention to stop. “I want a much larger facility—two roasters working around the clock seven days a week. I want a national footprint,” she said.
The idea behind the coffee was something people in Portland could get behind. Not only was it benefiting the Portland community, but it was benefiting the coffee growers outside of the United States. Trevin Miller, the owner of Mr. Green Beans, works for Bloom by preparing the coffee. He sourced a number of coffee suppliers before he began work with Bloom, all of which had a reputation for responsible treatment toward their farmers. “We stick to socially and environmentally responsible coffees,” said Miller. “They’re not all organic or Fair Trade, because those things have their own challenges, but they all meet some sort of certification.”
While this is an added benefit for Happy Cup, what promotes the brand is what it does for the Portland community. “Our edge, and what makes us stand out against the competition, is our mission—it’s our story,” said Bloom. The company thrives on the idea that people are willing to choose a coffee that not only tastes good, but benefits the community in which they live. Today, many coffee makers have a one-track mind when it comes to creating better opportunities for the poor growers in developing countries, but it is companies like Happy Cup that prove that just as much good work is waiting to be done in their own communities. Judging from the success, people are willing to listen to the message.
Full Life and Happy Cup together have employed over 80 people with disabilities, and that number continues to grow. Happy Cup employees perform a number of tasks in the back room. They weigh the coffee, distribute it into the bags, seal them up, stamp the date on them, and prepare them for transport. They also go on sales calls. Although they have not yet been trained to perform the roasting, it is a step that Bloom says she will take soon.
But Happy Cup has more to offer than just work.The nonprofitgives its employees a chance to talk, experience, learn, and grow with others. “They’ve taught me how to work as a team, rather than as one person,” said Nate Mackie, an employee at Happy Cup tasked with stamping the bags and adding the labels to them. “What I like most about working here is the people, being able to learn different things.”
While Happy Cup is focused on hiring people with disabilities, it is in no way a charity or volunteer service. Those employed at Happy Cup receive Oregon’s minimum, competitive wage and a salary that takes care of their living expenses. At the end of the day, they can be proud that they have performed real work that needs to get done. The company is bringing dignity to those that would normally not have the chance to work at a regular job.“The clients are doing work that we would otherwise need to hire outside workers for,” said Bloom.
The work that Bloom and others have been doing in Portland has the potential to open up new opportunities for its employees; and considering how tirelessly Bloom and her partners promote the goal of adding more jobs for those with disabilities, these opportunities could be spreading beyond the coffee culture of Portland. “The more we grow,” said Adam Bray, the Operations Manager for Happy Cup, “the more jobs we can provide and the greater impact we have in reducing the unemployment rate for disabled adults.”
The problem of such high unemployment rates for the disabled is not unique to Portland. There is no doubt that every city in the United States, and the world, could use a Happy Cup coffee shop to bring some much needed hope to those that just need an extra hand up in order to reach their full potential.
To learn more about Happy Cup Coffee, be sure to visit them at http://happycup.com/. You can also find them on Facebookand Twitter. If you’re in the Portland area, be sure to take a visit them at the Happy Cup Coffee coffee shop at 3331 NE Sandy Boulevardand get yourself a Happy Cup.