Bean’s Cafe is facing existential challenges

Founded in 1979 and located in Downtown Anchorage, Bean’s Cafe has one mission — to feed the hungry and the homeless without discrimination. Everyone is welcome to receive breakfast or lunch at Bean’s Cafe with no questions asked.

cafe.jpgLocated on Third Ave next to the Brother Francis Shelter, Bean's Cafe has been serving as a non-profit organization in Anchorage since 1979.
Located on Third Ave next to the Brother Francis Shelter, Bean’s Cafe has been serving as a non-profit organization in Anchorage since 1979. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

Some clients of the facility are struggling to make ends meet. Others are homeless and in need of shelter and food. Bean’s Cafe serves about 900 meals a day; 400 of these meals are breakfasts and lunches at the shelter. Additionally, they fund the Children’s Lunchbox program for 17 different community programs, which include meals, snack and weekend meals for children in need. They also offer goodie bags for their many volunteers and meals for the Brother Francis shelter.

Last year, Bean’s Cafe was able to offer overnight shelter for 100 people a night. The shelter was open every night from Dec. 2 to April 30 and greatly appreciated by the people in need. Bean’s Cafe’s executive director, Lisa Sauder, described it as welcomed alternative.

“We didn’t necessary meet capacity every night, but we never had to turn anyone away,” Sauder said. “People really enjoyed it, because it was a smaller and quieter shelter space and we were also able to provide a hot dinner last year. It was very appealing and were able to engage clients that were involved in a workforce pilot project as well as some of our harder to shelter clients that don’t do well in a larger environment.”

In prior years, Catholic Social Services has operated the Bean’s Cafe’s building as an overnight shelter when the Brother Francis Shelter reached its maximum capacity. After an incident in 2016, when a one of Brother Francis Shelter’s clients bled in Bean’s Cafe’s facility, the soup kitchen had to face confrontations with their insurance company, which later dropped them altogether.

The soup kitchen, which now exclusively operates as such, seeks an insurer that will meet the organization’s needs.

bean.jpgVolunteers at Bean's Cafe prepare meals for clients during the 12 p.m. lunch hour. Serving about 900 meals daily, Bean's Cafe operates dominantly through volunteer work.
Volunteers at Bean’s Cafe prepare meals for clients during the 12 p.m. lunch hour. Serving about 900 meals daily, Bean’s Cafe operates dominantly through volunteer work. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

“Almost all of the money for Bean’s Cafe comes from donations from individuals, businesses and money we raised at certain events,” Sauder said. “We are not federally funded. We get one grant, a competitive grant through the [Municipality of Anchorage] by basic human services, and we aren’t guaranteed that either. We have to compete for that every two years and it’s $150,000.”

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For now, Bean’s Cafe’s primary mission will remain to feed people in need. Franz Burghagen, business administration alumnus from UAA, said that volunteering at Bean’s Cafe highlights the essential need for shelters and soup kitchens to support Anchorage’s community.

“Hearing, almost daily, about the increasingly drastic spread of homelessness, while considering the impact of Alaska’s winters on those without a home, allows for only one conclusion,” Burghagen said. “These facilities are a crucial part of our community and keeping them open and running has the highest priority.”

Bean’s Cafe faces further challenges, should assemblyman Dick Traini’s proposal to treat non-profit organizations like commercial properties be executed. It would limit the amount of free police calls to 100 per calendar year for organizations such as Bean’s Cafe. Every call exceeding the limit would be charged with a $500 fine each.

The count would not include medical emergencies or reports of sexual assault, theft and child neglect, but Bean’s Cafe’s main reason for contacting Anchorage Safety Patrol is alcoholism, which would not be excluded from the fine.

“The majority of our calls are for Anchorage Safety Patrol — for individuals who are intoxicated. To me, it seems kind of counterintuitive to fine a facility, which is trying to help people, for requesting help themselves,” Sauder said.

Nora Morse, deputy communications director for the Anchorage Police Department, stated that by Nov. 15, Bean’s Cafe has recorded approximately 680 responses in 2017. The 580 extra phone calls would result in an fee of $290,000, if the proposal should pass.

Introducing such a surcharge would impede Bean’s Cafe to operate in the same way it does now. Sauder addressed the organizations responsibility to secure their volunteers and clients safety and therefore, need to be able to reply on Anchorage’s first responders. Volunteers keep Bean’s Cafe operating. With only one professional chef on kitchen staff, the organization depends on individuals who are willing to give back to the community.

Alexandria Scott, UAA natural sciences alumna, volunteers at Bean’s Cafe and always felt secure while doing so.

“I believe that Bean’s Cafe is very important in Anchorage, whenever I was volunteering, it was very busy the entire time and it was evident that it meant a lot to the people we were serving,” Scott said. “It really teaches you to be grateful for what you have and how important it is to reach out and serve others in any way that you can.”

For their annual “beanie boxes” collection, Bean’s Cafe asks for donations of wrapped shoe boxes filled with personal care items, warm weather gear and holiday cards to give to their clients. Donations of prepackaged boxes or bulk donations can be dropped off at Bean’s Cafe administrative office, 1020 E. Fourth Ave., Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.