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Coffee Cause: Morning brew provides communal relief

October 17, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Get your coffee with a cause.

That is the statement of the founders of Phoenix Community Coffee, a nonprofit organization church whose mission is to "provide relief to a global community through the sale of great coffee."

Phoenix Community Coffee, which began out of the Atlanta area roughly eight years ago but has been involved in import/export services for just three years, connects a network of nonprofits and individuals to sell coffee in the U.S. to help impoverished communities in Central America. It is different than other cause-based coffee companies because it allows each separate organization to choose what cause their coffee profits will support.

Article Photos

Beach Baptist Pastor Shawn Critser holds a fresh bag of coffee with a cause at the café called Phoenix Community Coffee at Fort Myers Beach on the campus of his 130 Connecticut St. church.

Locally, Beach Baptist Pastor Shawn Critser began the nonprofit, fundraising caf called Phoenix Community Coffee at Fort Myers Beach on the campus of his 130 Connecticut St. church just last month with a focus to help the indigenous coffee workers in Guatemala. He had been serving the coffee at the church on Sundays since April.

"This is extremely important. It's finally a way to put feet on the message we have been preaching about," said Critser. "We can actually see it in action, because it's the gospel that compels us to do everything we do as a church."

Critser began his coffee endeavor after the collective church society on Fort Myers Beach addressed a need for a community coffee house within one of the churches. He said the reason was to find "a place for people to come, meet, hang out at a really low impact and have something behind the process."

At first, church officials were looking for a big name coffee company to supply them with coffee so that they could basically give it away at a low cost. Then, while at a church convention in Chattanooga this past January, Critser noticed another church supplying coffee with a cause.

"When I met Brian (Holland, president/founder of the church aptly called Phoenix Community Coffee) and the group, I just fell in love with their heart in what they are doing in Guatemala so I just partnered with them," he said.

Phoenix Community Coffee church and its many partners work directly with farmers and growers in Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. These farmers and growers get a larger payment for their services from PCC and its affiliates, which in turn give them more money for their families.

"We pay them directly. It doesn't go through an import/export agent," said Critser. "We fund them at a level that they don't get to see in their countries. My charge was to find the coffee person, and (PCC) became that coffee person. This has so much more behind it then paying Maxwell House or another company money to go into somebody's corporate pocket. Our coffee may be one or two bucks more per pound, but when all of it is going into something so vital, that's cool."

The local caf and cause

Phoenix Community Coffee at Fort Myers Beach is open from 7 a.m. through late afternoon Monday through Saturday just inside the church lobby. A suggested donation of $2 will get patrons a 10- or 16-ounce cup of premium coffee. Bags of one-pound coffee ($13), insulated mugs and t-shirts are for sale as well. The caf also offers free bread, free Wi-Fi and meeting space.

Critser said profits from selling coffee goes back into the community where the coffee was purchased and into the community in which the caf operates. That includes all donations from each cup purchased and all but $2.50 (administrative costs) from each 16-ounce bag of coffee ($4 to Beach Baptist mission projects/ $6.50 to missions of Phoenix Community Coffee in Atlanta and farmers and growers in Central America).

"This is giving back to our community here, their community in Guatemala and the community in Atlanta," said Critser. "When I shared the vision with our church, everybody said this was the kind of missions they wanted to be a part of."

The $4 collected from each bag of coffee goes into a fund to help Beach Baptist members go to Guatemala to help build homes. Proceeds also help in the education and clothing of families of the farmers and growers and allows the farmers to pay their workers four times the normal rates.

"Now, their kids are in school and have new shoes and books. We didn't send them these items. We just bought their coffee, and their dads bought them shoes and put them in school for the full year," said Critser. "Before, they could only afford three months of tuition. Now, that farmer can educate his family for the long term."

Even if someone doesn't believe in church missions or sending money to other countries, the caf effect speaks volumes.

"Just go get a cup of coffee. All you have to do is drink it and give a small donation if you have it. That's more coffee coming out of Guatemala that we are paying to get into the country to roast. It'll force me to go buy more, and you just helped plan a church or build a house," said Critser.

The caf opens up the Beach Baptist Church building to make it available for the common businessperson to have a meeting and bring clients for no charge.

"We sit in the middle of this community and for at least four days a week nothing was happening in this building. It was a simple waste of real estate," said Critser. "Now, we have an Internet caf where people can mill around and hopefully read the stuff we have about Guatemala."

The coffee of Phoenix Community Coffee at Fort Myers Beach is grown in the "cloud-drenched region of Nicaragua" at roughly 4,200 feet in elevation. It is then roasted at its company's headquarters in Duluth, Ga., which is where the coffee bean begins to age. From there, it is sealed fresh and delivered to Beach Baptist.

Rated among the top two percent globally, the ethically traded coffee of Phoenix Community Coffee is so fresh because its direct exportation takes less time than traditional routes for "large, costly conglomerates". The short aging process eliminates the middleman and sitting on a store's shelf for weeks at a time.

Most of the current coffee at the church is only two weeks old as of Oct. 11.

Just a few months ago in April, Critser personally visited the villages of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and saw first hand what those farmers were up against. Shawn's father went there in July to help build a house for another community in the country.

"They've become their own micro-community, so they started a church," said Critser. "So, when we go back into that community, we build a house for one of the farmers or members of the group because they are living in huts on the mountain next to their farms. We also work with the wives to teach them how to make crafts, like souvenir book marks for instance."

Next year's goal is to send a bilingual person from Phoenix Community Coffee to one of the churches in Guatemala to live with them for a year and teach them English.

"We'll have an opportunity for (the missionary) on their income from coffee," said Critser. "The need for English is that they are trying to make money on the tourism side. They are the ones that asked to learn English to communicate better to the people that they are selling to."

This mission does not involve handouts.

"We don't ever just send money to any of these communities. We help them create a sustained income," said Critser. "Just in case something happened to us, they wouldn't be dependent on us. They have the heart to be self-sustained."

The founders and purpose

According to the website of Phoenix Community Coffee, the cycle of relief begins with the indigenous worker's education, working conditions and increase in wages. Phoenix Community Coffee then purchases the coffee directly from the farming family, and the consumer gets over three times more per pound than the fair trade market. The impact is felt through profit of coffee sales that raise funds for many different prioritized benefactors.

In addition to helping the needy in Guatemala, PCC also supports the abolition of child sex trafficking, ending homelessness, helping victims of abuse, providing support and recovery to addicts, and care for widows and orphans. It is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization, created in 2010 by a team of individuals committed to making an impact within their community. As the company has grown, so has the community they are striving to impact. PCC operates locally and internationally, redefining mission focused business and reaching out to the broken, hurting, desperate and disconnected.

For more information on Phoenix Community Coffee, visit, e-mail, or call 263-2800.



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