Sunrise Café, the newest addition to New Haven’s breakfast scene, has a unique business model: It’s free.
On March 2, the Sunrise Café opened, becoming the first free breakfast café in New Haven and, on Mondays and Thursdays, the only place where the homeless can find receive a free breakfast in New Haven. Located in the basement of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James at 57 Olive St., the café is a non-profit enterprise and program at Liberty Community Services, a New Haven homelessness assistance organization. It is predominately funded by private donations. Although many patrons at the café are homeless, it is open to anyone, and volunteers and staff who work at the café do not track who visits.
“This place is a blessing,” said Lee Goodman, the café’s first customer and a resident at Emergency Shelter Management Services, a homeless shelter at 646 Grand Ave.
Goodman complimented the workers’ kind service and said she hoped the café would run for as long as possible.
Anne Calabresi, co-founder of Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership, an academic and social enrichment program, conceptualized the idea for the cafe.
“The café opened because I felt that there had to at least be a place [in New Haven] where people could come in and get breakfast with no questions asked,” said Calabresi, who is also a proprietor of the New Haven Green and the founding director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
Calebresi credited Liberty Community Services executive director John Bradley with playing a key role in starting the café.
She added that the cafe is open to all members of the community and creates a space where “people won’t think it’s life-threatening to sit down with a homeless person.”
Staff members at the café include workers from Liberty Community Services, which manages donations and day-to-day operations at the café. Liberty Community Services pays the salaries of two of the cafe’s employees: chef Meg Fama and Heath Terry, a program advocate for Liberty Community Services.
To complement the paid staff, the café is currently seeking Yale students to serve as volunteers. Rehab Abdel-Wahab ’17, who took on the role of Yale liaison for the cafe when she heard about it from her freshman advisor, said she is reaching out to YHHAP and Dwight Hall to coordinate volunteers. She said more than a half-dozen students have committed to volunteering at the café, and these volunteers are scheduled to start next week.
Abdel-Wahab noted that convincing students to wake up early to volunteer is a challenge, but she plans to reach out to students who wake up early, such as student-athletes and students of certain religious groups.
According to Terry, only five customers came to the cafe on the day it opened. Since then, however, Terry has distributed over 100 flyers and advertised the café by talking to pedestrians and people at bus stops. These efforts, he said, have resulted in more customers coming to the café — 57 customers were served last Monday, and Terry said his goal is ultimately to serve 100 customers daily.
The Sunrise Café serves breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.