Pay-It-Forward at the Bridge Community Cafe

Bridge Community Cafe is a neighborhood-driven coffee shop. This cafe offers an inviting atmosphere and a safe space, accompanied by delicious vegan food options and home-brewed tea. 

Opening during the height of the pandemic, Bridge Community Cafe was created to help support small businesses. However, cafe owner Sierra Lambert says the cafe became a community space that offered snacks and resources such as workshops while helping organize events. 

“It’s meant to be a community space,” said Lambert. “I want to organize and help people organize events, workshops, and skill sharing, but I also think you can’t do that without any income. Coffee is a great way to bring money and bring people together from different places. Everyone drinks coffee, we also have tea, we have lemonade, we have cookies, and we have vegan food. We’re trying to make it so everybody wants to be here and feel comfortable. That is the main goal and I think it’s worked out well.”

Within the cafe, artists are allowed to sell or donate their art and jewelry.  

For customers, Bridge Community Cafe offers handcrafted jewelry, and locally made art, and for their food items, the cafe offers a ‘pay-it-forward’ option to their customers. 

“That actually came from me not having money to buy coffee a long time ago,” said Lambert. 

A ‘pay-It-forward’ option is where an item is given to a customer as a gift by previous customers. If the current customer wishes to pay it forward, they can contribute to another future customer to help keep the “pay-it-forward” cycle continuing. 

According to Lambert, her favorite part of the ‘pay-it-forward’ program is that people have choices to get whatever they want.  

“That was my favorite thing about incorporating the ‘pay-it-forward’ system because you charge $3.33 for a sleeve, then you can get any drink on the menu.”

Lambert said that seeing others participate in the program has drawn attention and created curiosity. 

“People will see that program being used and be like, “Wait, what just happened there? How can I contribute, I want to be a part of this too,” Lambert said. 

In addition to the ‘pay-it-forward’ option, Bridge Community Cafe offers a ‘pay-if-you-can’ selection. For this program, customers can select from the cafe’s soup selection. However, Lambert explains that they’re beginning a lunch card program to help others buy items outside their soup selection. 

“You can pay nothing, pay $5 or $10,” Lambert. “I noticed with that program, it’s kind of like the drinks, a lot of people don’t want soup, they want something else. So now we have a lunch card program. It’s like a gift card that we keep behind the bar and people can distribute money towards that gift card. And then somebody wants to get something like a cookie or a muffin or a burrito, they can get that on the gift card and then they get 20% off. So that it goes a little bit further.”

These options are beneficial to the homeless community. However, Lambert explained later that the lunch program needs support and awareness to assist in the continuation of the program.

“The lunch card program came out of a need and food insecurity in our community,” said Lambert. “It came from so many people coming in and eating food, not having access to it outside, and finding a way to balance that within our business model as a small business.”

Regarding the growth of the Bridge Community Cafe, Lambert explained that she would like to establish more events for the community. 

“The poetry night, everyone who was here really enjoyed it. People asked if we would host, so we’re trying to host that again. We host monthly clothing swaps, where people can bring in a bunch of clothes or grab free clothes. I want to do that stuff,” Lambert said.

Lambert states that one of the goals of the Cafe is to focus on helping grow and build with the community.  

“I believe in decolonial education, centering kids, and multigenerational spaces,”said Lambert. “That’s why we have the kids’ section. All the furniture here is accessible to all different types of people. Just building that base is what I’m working on right now, and trying to make sure that we stay open.”

217 W Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti. 734-896-3710.

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