Jean-Curtis Plante

Jean-Curtis Plante

Talkin’ Donkey to serve last fair trade cup

Vernon's own coffee house with a cause is closing its doors

Following eight years of serving up social, environmental and spiritual awareness, Vernon’s own coffee house with a cause is closing its doors.

The Talkin’ Donkey, a non-profit coffee house run by the Salvation Army, will pour its last mug of fair trade coffee March 29.

It’s a bittersweet announcement, as the shop has accomplished so much, but is not sustainable.

“We’re re-allocating our resources and our efforts,” said Salvation Army Vernon Captain Jean-Curtis Plante.

“We have greater needs in the community.”

The Talkin’ Donkey tried to restructure in January by shifting hours and cutting the 14 staff to six, but is still struggling to keep the doors open due to such factors as rising expenses.

“Sustainability has always been an issue,” said Plante, as the shop serves only fair trade coffee, which is more costly than regular coffee, and also has an environmentally conscious angle with items such as biodegradable utensils and take-out containers, also more expensive.

The Salvation Army owns the 24th Street coffee house, and the adjoining thrift store, but has no plans to sell the space and will most likely expand the thrift store.

Although sad to forgo the daily scent of freshly-ground beans and delicious food, the closure is being touted as a celebration (and there will be one March 29).

Increased awareness of human trafficking and fair trade were the main focus of the shop when it opened, and Plante sees the success.

“There weren’t a lot of fair trade options when it opened and now a lot of coffee companies are offering it.”

And it was also a place where careers were started for a number of local musicians through open mic.

“Half a dozen years ago Andrew Allen played here,” said David MacBain, community ministries director.

Allen is just one of many musicians who credit the Talkin’ Donkey as their first stage.

“Jodi Pederson, she was an employee of ours and sang here and went on to build her career.”

So although the doors are closing on one venture, they are opening wider for a greater need locally.

“Since the recession, the good paying jobs for people who have no education or just Grade 12 education just don’t exist anymore,” said Plante, referring to B.C. statistics and local examples of families facing eviction and a single father of three whose utilities were cut off for a month.

“Families who once could just make ends meet are now not able to make ends meet.”

There’s a lot of new clients at the House of Hope and food bank in recent years, therefore resources will go towards helping them where they can.

While the food bank is one avenue of support, the Salvation Army can also advocate on behalf of individuals by speaking with utility companies for them, providing referrals and issuing thrift store vouchers when household items or clothing are desperately needed.

“There’s no shame in coming and needing help,” said Plante.