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Coffee donation thanks EMS workers, and sends message disabled can contribute, too

Newmarket's Commons Coffee showed its appreciation for York Region paramedics, while also demonstrating people with autism and other disabilities are valued citizens

A donation of freshly ground coffee was an opportunity to show gratitude to local emergency service workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, but was also a reminder that disabled individuals in our community want to contribute and give back, too.

Volunteers from Commons Coffee and Catering made a donation of nine pounds of organic, fair trade coffee — that’s about 400 cups — to York Region Paramedic Services last Friday, said longtime Newmarket resident Susan Popper, who is a director and volunteer manager for the non-profit business.

This week, they are making another donation, to Central York Fire Services firefighters in Newmarket.

“At the same time that we wanted to show our support and appreciation of the frontline emergency workers, who are risking their lives and working long hours for us during the coronavirus pandemic, we also wanted to show that people with autism and other disabilities can make a contribution to the community,” Popper said.

“Our Commons crew has donated the coffee to point out that they care and want to help,” said a statement that was read at the presentation. “People with disabilities have social value and abilities and are contributors to the community. They would like to contribute even more.” 

The cost of the coffee, which was ordered and freshly ground for the donation, was covered by supporters of Commons Coffee who want the community and government to recognize the unique vulnerabilities of people with disabilities and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“They are valued citizens and therefore should receive the same standard of health care as any other citizen. They do not wish to be devalued and deprioritized at the time of a COVID-19 emergency,” said Popper.

One issue of concern is that a family member or support person may not be permitted to accompany a person with disabilities if he or she goes to the hospital, under current regulations during the pandemic, she said.

“A person with cognitive difficulties may not be well spoken, may not be able to tell how they feel, and may feel a lot of anxiety if they end up in hospital, especially people with autism,” Popper said.

“We truly appreciate and are grateful for the donation you made today with your partners. My colleagues were very touched by the donation and the statement that was read,” said paramedic Lina Gallo in an email to Popper following the donation. ”Thank you for providing the statement, it was quite profound.“

The small but successful business has offered visitors to the Newmarket Farmers Market top-quality, locally purchased and roasted organic coffee and other drinks at its vending booth for the last seven years, and it also caters at events and festivals in Newmarket and area — many of which have been cancelled as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of our dedicated customers have started to support our cause,” Popper added.

Supported by volunteers, Commons Coffee offers people with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities an opportunity to learn on-the-job skills, said Popper, who launched the business with her daughter, Rosina.

“Our main purpose is to have our partners show their abilities and find employment in the community,” she added.

Through federal government job grants, Commons Coffee is able to hire summer students, Popper said.

“It’s the first job experience for some, and an opportunity to show they can contribute.”

Some employees have gone on to be hired locally at Metro, Costco and Tim Hortons, she added.

With its annual fundraising dance in June cancelled to follow the physical distancing required to halt the spread of COVID-19, Popper said Commons Coffee would be grateful for donations.

As well, volunteers are always needed and welcome.

For more information, email or visit their Facebook page.