Every morning, volunteers turn on the stoves at the Sunrise Cafe to prepare breakfast for those in need.
The cafe, a volunteer-run program that caters to low-income members of the New Haven community, welcomes more than 100 patrons every morning between 7:30 to 9:30 and serves smoothies, oatmeal, fruit and more free of charge. Volunteer Meghan Elgee said the cafe mostly serves men and that the majority are low-income, unemployed or homeless.
“They have dignity here,” volunteer Sha Mackenzie said. “It’s a little more civil [than a soup kitchen].”
Bragsdale added that the early hours of the cafe also draw the Elm City’s working residents, since few restaurants open before typical business hours.
The cafe — which receives funding from an umbrella organization Liberty Community Services — this week received a $100,000 grant from Wendy Hamilton, one of its volunteers. Hamilton was one of the cafe’s original volunteers when it opened in March 2015 and is a well-established advocate for people of need in New Haven, Sunrise Cafe supervisor Thelma Bragsdale said. Given after years of volunteering for the cafe, the donation will be used to fund the Sunrise Cafe’s operations over the next year.
“We raised enough money to get us through the end of the year — mostly through private donations,” Bradley said. “That’s how this [$100,000] gift was welcome. We basically have enough to keep us going another year.”
John Bradley ’81, executive director of Liberty Community Services, said the cafe was born out of a community volunteer’s worry for the homeless people she saw sleeping on the New Haven Green. After approaching Liberty Community Services with a pitch to supplement pre-existing food-service programs, she and the organization established the Sunrise Cafe. After learning that free breakfast was not available for New Haven residents every day in a steady location, their idea blossomed into a free daily cafe.
The objective of the program is to provide a warm and comfortable place where guests can relax, Bragsdale, who has been volunteering at the cafe since it opened, said. Every guest who enters the cafe is greeted by a hostess and offered a chair at one of the many numbered tables.
“Anyone is welcome,” Bragsdale said.
Although the cafe’s atmosphere differs from that of the average soup kitchen, it caters to a similar demographic. Instead of ushering visitors down a cafeteria-style line, the Sunrise Cafe serves customers as if they were in a restaurant.
Bragsdale emphasized the cafe’s dedication to the total well-being of its guests, pointing to its collection of knit hats, gloves and scarves available for free to anyone who may need them. Furthermore, the cafe has a nurse visit on Fridays to check on the guests and has a representative from Veterans Affairs available as a resource.
While the program may now have the means to sustain itself until March 2017, the needs of the New Haven community are not yet met. Sally Fleming, Sunrise Cafe volunteer and head of Loaves and Fishes, a food pantry and ministry of St. Paul and St. James Episcopal Church, said that despite the recent donation, the organization continues to fill out grant applications. Bragsdale said cafe volunteers would like to provide some of the heartier breakfast foods more often and that they are in need of more gloves, socks, hats and scarves.
Darby Henry ’17, head of Yale student volunteers at the cafe, highlighted that they are always in need of more volunteers, particularly toward the end of the month when guests receiving subsidies run out of money and can no longer afford food for themselves.
“That’s what we need: more and more volunteers,” Bragsdale said.
In 2012, roughly 14.4 percent of individuals in New Haven county were food insecure.