It wasn’t quite the whole town showing up to save the building and loan, but it was a pretty wonderful life moment for the Community Cafe.
“It just, it was an amazing situation,” said Don Murfin, cafe founder who received a much needed gift from strangers, just days before Christmas. “Because the two things that they brought up in their little note, we had been having a lot of discussions about. Particularly about the financial side.”
On Dec. 14, a couple traveling from Minnesota to Florida for some reason stopped at a cafe site in Fort Mill, one of three Murfin and volunteers run offering free hot meals each week in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie. A week later, they returned. They had one handwritten note and a stack of bank ones.
“We just want you to know that we admire so much the work you all have put in for this community,” the note read. “The act of feeding or sharing food with someone in need is the most basic and profound act of kindness anyone can offer.”
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Murfin saw a $50 bill on top, another on bottom. And more than a dozen between them. A $1,000 cash donation from a couple whose last name he doesn’t know, from nowhere near here, who simply showed up one day. Well, showed up two days.
“They picked up on it,” Murfin said. “The more I thought about it, how did they pick that up? And to feel so strongly about it to make a very significant donation, and to do that with cash.”
The couple, who Murfin only knows as Mark and Mai, couldn’t have come at a better time.
A Cafe in need
Since opening in 2010, the cafe has added and lost sites. Murfin has won several community service awards. Thousands of meals have been prepared, community partnerships formed. What hasn’t changed is, anyone can come get a hot meal at no cost.
“The fact that we will continue to treat everybody the same, that will never change,” Murfin said. “We don’t want folks feeling bad that they can’t donate. It’s a little bit of a thin line.”
Thin because, as of late, donations haven’t been keeping up with costs.
“We were in the hole about $10,000,” Murfin said.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re broke. We have been raising money to buy a food truck, and that is still ongoing. I’ve told the major donors to that if we had to borrow from that to keep the cafe doors open we would do that, because that comes first.”
The cafe sites can put out a hot meal for, on average, 70 cents. Yet, donations were only coming in at about a quarter per meal.
“That’s what we have to make up,” Murfin said.
Cafe sites at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church near Tega Cay and Lake Wylie Christian Assembly were down a little more than the Sisk Memorial Baptist Church location in Fort Mill, which has a major foundation sponsor. But all were down to the point cafe volunteers started questioning what they could do differently, and what they wouldn’t.
“It’s free for those who need it to be free, but somebody’s got to pay the bills,” Murfin said. “And that’s where neighbors come in.”
Murfin said one of the sandwiches his group prepares each week has some of the same ingredients a major restaurant offers, because that restaurant donates to the cafe. A similar sandwich at the restaurant may be seven or eight dollars. The cafe gives it away, along with a drink, dessert and more.
“If you go out and buy what we give away, you’re looking at a $10 to $12 meal,” Murfin said. “If people would just give the tips that they normally give, that would keep us going. But that’s the way we have chosen to operate. Because I really want people to enjoy the food, and most of them really, really like what we do.”
Murfin sent a message to supporters a couple of weeks ahead of the recent donation, detailing how the cafe could use more contributions. Since, they’re made progress.
“We have, to the point where we’re covering all of our costs,” Murfin said. “And we’ve reduced to the size of the hole to about $1,500. We’ve come a long way.”
Part of it is timing. End-of-year contributions for groups like the nonprofit cafe can be significant. While the cafe sites combine for about 1,200 meals per week — they’ve served for more than 51,000 in 2017 — donations aren’t quite as steady. Many wait until the final weeks of the year. Most people write checks so they can take the tax deduction.
Which made the gift from a couple heading south for Christmas, all the more unusual.
“And then they were off,” Murfin said. “Just absolutely amazing.”
Want to help?
For more on the Community Cafe, including sites and serving times as well as how to donate, visit communitycafecares.com.