Coffee with a Mission and a Food Gal Giveaway

Coffee beans from the Aleta Wondo village of Ethiopia.

The impoverished Aleta Wondo community of Ethiopia grows some of the world’s finest coffee beans.

Brew a cup as I did from some sample beans, then revel in the smooth, rich notes of vanilla and bergamot without any of the ubiquitous “burnt” flavor of so many dark roasts these days.

Yet the farmers who grow these precious beans often don’t make enough money to feed or care for their children properly.

Enter Common River, a Mill Valley non-profit, which is working to change that.

Started by Donna Sillan, an international public health consultant, and Tsegaye Bekele, an Aleta Wondo native who now lives in Marin after starting a plumbing business in the Bay Area, the organization was able to build a new school in Aleta Wondo that educates 130 children in the community. It also started a summer camp program there that is staffed by Mill Valley volunteers.

Moreover, Sillan and Bekele began exporting the Aleto Wondo coffee to the United States. All the profits from the sale of the coffee goes back to the village of farmers to help fund the school and other needed projects.

The beans are sold under the Equator brand.

You can do your own part to help by trying the coffee, yourself. It’s available at Whole Foods in Mill Valley and San Rafael. It’s also for sale directly on the AletaWondo site. Additionally, Equator Coffees & Teas, the socially conscious coffee company that just opened its first retail cafe at the San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2,  buys the Aleta Wondo beans and sells it under its own label.

Contest: One lucky Food Gal reader will get a chance to enjoy a 12-ounce bag of the Aleta Wondo coffee beans. Entries, restricted to those who live in the continental United States, will be accepted through midnight PST April 16. Winner will be announced April 18.

How to win?

Tell me about a good deed or charitable act that you’ve done that gave you great satisfaction. Best answer wins the coffee.

Here’s my own answer:

“When my good friend Charlen still worked at the San Jose Mercury News as community outreach manager, she often organized fund-raising drives at work for various causes. As a reporter there, I always looked forward to the back-to-school backpack drive, where my newsroom co-workers and I would put together brand new backpacks for disadvantaged young girls and boys who were just starting the new school year. My husband and I would spend an afternoon at Target, buying a backpack and all the accessories to go with it. We’d fill our cart with crayons, notepads, rulers, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, binders, glitter pens, fun key chains, a colorful refillable water bottle, and anything else that caught our eyes. At home, I’d arrange everything just so inside the backpack until it was stuffed to the gills, before turning it over to Charlen for delivery. It always made my heart smile to imagine the little girl or boy gasping with joy when unzipping the backpack, and to think that one little gesture might just help a child excel even more in school.”

Winner of Last Week’s Contest: In the last Food Gal contest, I asked you to tell me about one of your favorite baked goods from childhood and why you still dream about it. The winner will receive a sampler of breads, cookies, corn cakes and scones from Pastry Smart.

Pastry Smart's mushroom-thyme scone.

Congratulations to:

Marcella, who wrote, “When I was in high school I was an assistant for the typing teacher. He was a pretty laid back guy, but he had one strict rule. He never wanted to see what color gum students were chewing. Gum could be chewed, but there was punishment in store for those who slipped and blew bubbles or snapped their gum in their front teeth. A caught student had to bring a batch of chocolate chip cookies to share for the class. The student was to bake the cookies themselves –- no mixes or slice and bake allowed. If the student got proficient in chocolate chip cookie making they had to move on to molasses cookies. Before then, I had never even heard of a molasses cookie. I soon fell in love with them and secretly hoped the good cookie bakers would slip up and have to bring a batch to class. Those spicy, chewy cookies are still a favorite of mine and my family and we bake them often –- even if we haven’t been chewing gum.”

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  • lovely coffee and giveaway although I am not in the US 🙂

  • I think it’s been 10 years now since our family sponsored a child in the Philippines through the charity CCF (he was eight at the time). Over the years we’ve kept in touch with the young boy–now a young man–and his family via letters and the occasional holiday gift. We recently learned that he dropped out of college because of his family’s economic hardship (mud slides so severe, the only way to get into their home was through a window!).

    While we couldn’t afford to cover his expense for a degree in Information Technology, we asked if he had any other interest that could help him become more financially secure and independent (and affordable for us to do!).

    He’s now going to register for Hospitality and Restaurant Management classes, to attain an Associates Degree.

    We’re grateful to be in a position to make a difference in this young man’s life. Who knows, maybe in future, we’ll have a chance to meet. I’m certain he’ll be very successful in whatever he endeavors to do.

  • Nice post about the coffee…and great way to help the community 🙂 Have a great week ahead Carolyn 🙂

  • My favorite kind acts are the small, unannounced, almost unnoticeable ones. I read an interview once of Akio Morita, Sony’s founder. As they walked through Sony’s headquarter campus, the interviewer noticed Morita bent down and picked up a piece of paper and put it in his pocket. It was a scrap — litter — and he picked it up without a thought, because apparently, that’s what he always did.

    Since then, I’ve developed the same habit. One day, in a mall, I noticed a loose bracket on a clothing rack. I pulled out my pocket knife and fixed it. My wife still laughs about that.

    I do it because it makes me happy. I just think it’s a happy way to be.

  • thats a great way to help!

  • I live in a very large residential building in New York. In it are mostly young professionals, some young families and many elderly people. You can tell when you see the elderly that they are lonely and yearning to talk to someone. In the winter, or just cold or rainy days, they walk around the main lobby, or sit by the window. When the weather is nicer, they stand around outside the building, walk up and down the sidewalk, and just pass the time. I always stop and talk to them. Some of them seem a little flustered when I do. Some seem reluctant or seem awkward when I engage in conversation but I always make it my mission to break down the barriers. Sometimes they seem to be more receptive when I have my kids with me, so when that opportunity presents itself, I always engage my children in the conversation. Not only do they seem to be more entertained by the young ones, but I feel my kids see that talking with elderly people is not so boring after all. They have wonderful stories to tell about themselves, their families and what it was like when they were younger. I know that once the ice is broken, they never hesitate to stop us (my kids included) to chat when we are passing through the lobby. There is one little old lady, recently, who after many, many months of working on her with eye contact and little smiles, I was able to elicit a “hello” from her when one of my daughters and I passed her in the supermarket the other day. We still have not spoken to her. When we got to the next aile, my daughter and I looked at each other, smiled and high fived. She knew I had been trying to get through this lady’s shyness for quite some time now. We still haven’t spoken, but that will come. Then there was the old man who would wear very dapper clothes each and every day. Our favorite outfit was in the summer when he would wear what looked like a Venetian Gondolier’s outfit, including a wide brimmed hat. To complete the outfit, he’d wear a very extravagant necklace and beaded bracelets. He asked me to marry him several times which was so endearing, but then I found out that he also asked my friend down the block to marry him as well! Another favorite of ours was Julie, who was so frail but always had her hair neatly pinned in an up do every time we saw her. She was afraid to walk from the wall to the front door, so she would wait patiently for someone to offer their hand to her. She would stand outside for hours holding on to the rail, watching people walk by. Every time she saw me she would ask about my parents and then tell me how gorgeous my daughters were and what a wonderful mother I was. When she would run into my older daughter outside, she would talk to her for sometimes half and hour, and always ended the conversation with over the top compliments. We all loved her very much. Over the years, I’ve noticed that I won’t see one of them for a while, and after asking around, will find out that they have passed away. Sadly, we don’t see my dapper gentleman friend, or Julie anymore. What makes them so special to me is that they have all impacted my family’s lives so positively with just a few words. I didn’t know most of their names, but my kids and I will always fondly remember each, and every one of them. I just hope we were able to make their days just a little brighter as well.

  • Great stories so far. Some of my most satisfying experiences have been the international volunteer trips we’ve made. Two trips to Brazil working in an orphanage with babies and toddlers and one to Peru spending time with abandoned and sometimes abused elderly people. All three trips have been amazing experiences where we lived in a local community, learned about the local culture and spent time doing whatever was needed in the facility where we were assigned.

  • I loved Marcella’s story!

  • Contest is now closed. Come back Monday to find out who won and for the start of a brand new contest.

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