Maverick Citizen

Coronavirus vs Caffeine

You can now boost doctors and nurses with a coffee, thanks to new project

You can now boost doctors and nurses with a coffee, thanks to new project
Nurses taking a break at the Netcare Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth enjoy a cup of coffee. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

When the founders of the Red Band Barista Academy, a project fighting youth unemployment in South Africa saw their baristas struggle during lockdown, they made a plan. Firm believers in the restoring powers of coffee, they launched a campaign to give frontline health workers a boost, involve the public to show doctors and nurses that they care and provide their baristas with an income.

Ryan le Roux from the Leva Foundation said they started the Red Band Barista Academy five years ago as a way to address youth unemployment.

So far they have trained 250 baristas in Port Elizabeth and have also opened academies in George, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Uganda.

“We take unskilled people and we teach them about coffee,” Le Roux said.

“I am so excited to be part of this,” award-winning barista, trainer and co-founder of the academy, Shaun Aupais, said. “It is making a real impact.”

Le Roux said after they launched the academy in 2015 they soon realised that they would have to expand the programme. 

“About three years into it we realised that some of our baristas wanted their own businesses. So we started a social enterprise and franchised Red Band coffee shops. We help them with product development and marketing and finance and after two years they own their own coffee bar,” Le Roux said.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the outbreak of coronavirus infections in South Africa to be a national disaster and ordered a nationwide lockdown with only essential services personnel working, the Red Band baristas, like thousands of coffee shops countrywide, had to close their doors.

“It really feels like a hopeless situation at the moment for the average barista. The coffee industry as we know it will never be the same again. Yes, some of the same shops will stick around but we are going to lose some amazing people to other industries because they have no choice but to find other work. Coffee is so much more than just the coffee bean or the beverage, it’s about the people,” Aupais said.

“Our industry has been hit so hard. Baristas rely on their salaries. It has been very, very tough, a lot of the guys were phoning me during lockdown asking if I can help them find work. In the last two weeks when the garages started selling coffee again it has made things a little bit easier. They are becoming more lenient and the guys can deliver now. Coffee shops cannot open because deliveries alone will not cover the rent. It cannot pay the bills. The majority of guys I know are sitting at home, unemployed and very unhappy,” he said.

“We had to do something,” Le Roux said. “Our baristas had no money coming in.”

It was then that coffee4heroes was born. Their tagline is: Not all heroes wear capes… some buy coffee!” 

People can sponsor a cup of coffee (R30) for a healthcare worker – a doctor, nurse, lab technician or hospital administration staff.

Within a month they received sponsorships for 1,700 cups of coffee.

“I think we will make and distribute those here in Port Elizabeth,” Le Roux said. He said they will soon launch the campaign countrywide as they have partners “in the coffee family” who will be making coffee at hospitals in Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

“We were only trying to work out how to get our baristas a salary — the response has been very good. It is such a cool initiative not just for the baristas, but nurses and doctors are coming round to thank us for giving them a boost when they really need it. Even the admin staff said it was so nice to walk into the hospital and smell freshly brewed coffee.”

The campaign was launched at the Netcare Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth, but Le Roux said plans are to visit two of the public hospitals in the city, Livingstone Tertiary Hospital, the designated centre for Covid-19 patients and Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital. 

“We will soon start a rollout in Cape Town and Johannesburg. We also have baristas in George and Durban who are making coffee for heroes,” he said. 

“I think the best moment for me so far in this campaign was when one of our baristas who usually sells coffee in Walmer township came out to the hospital. “This was my favourite day as a barista,” he told me. “I never thought I would have the privilege of serving a doctor.”

Le Roux said that when travelling restrictions are eased they plan to take their campaign to London. 

“We are also keen to find a way that our campaign can help the coffee farmers in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who have been badly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak worldwide,” he said. MC


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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