Downtown Grind: Paying it forward with free food donated from generous customers

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — Sometimes you need a little pick-me-up, but what if you don’t have the money? Downtown Grind, a coffee shop in Elmira, features a ‘pay-it-forward’ tree where customers can take a receipt for food that another customer has already paid for.

Sara Caldwell, owner of Downtown Grind, said the idea originated from Anchorage, Alaska.

“Six or seven years ago, we went to this local tavern and they had a little bulletin board,” said Caldwell. “[It] had ‘here’s $5 for a drink if you’re from Alabama’ or ‘here’s an order of fries if you’re from California’ and I thought that was such a cool idea.”

The process is simple. If you have extra cash and feel generous, you can buy food for someone else to enjoy. The receipt is put on the ‘pay-it-forward’ tree and anyone can come in and use it. (There are some limitations to how often someone can use it though.)

“I wanted to make sure that nobody was left out when I opened this cool, friendly, a little more upscale spot in downtown Elmira,” said Caldwell. “We have a pretty sizable homeless and addict population. Luckily, we have a lot of social services that can help our neighbors with that as well. But, I wanted a place that everybody in the community was able to come to, even if you’re broke.”

Whether you just went through a bad breakup, lost your job, or are simply have a bad day, the employees will not ask why you want something for free. Downtown Grind will give it to you with no judgment.

“I think this is the easiest and best way for us to be able to help somebody that we don’t even know needs help,” said Caldwell. “It’s a way for somebody that needs a hand to not feel weird or bad about it. It’s not charity. It’s already paid for because somebody had some extra bucks, so it’s a low cost and easy way of helping your neighbor.”

Caldwell said we need more acts of kindness in the community.

“There is already a pretty friendly spirit here already, so we’re just adding to it,” said Caldwell.

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