By Spencer Fowler Steen
The Salvation Army’s Bourke St-based Project 614 has poured a staggering two million coffees for the city’s most vulnerable, marking a Melbourne milestone which has helped save lives over a brew.
Members of the community gathered on July 14 to watch as a screen ticked over the 1,999,999-mark, to the smell of a fresh roast emanating throughout the canteen where countless Melburnians have had life-changing conversations.
Salvation Army Commanding Officer Major Brendan Nottle, who has dedicated more than two decades of his life towards helping disadvantaged members of society, said some of the conversations had over coffees there had been a matter of “life or death”.
Major Nottle explained that through its partnership with St Vincent’s Hospital, the initiative had been originally conceived from nurses chatting with a man who had come in off the streets to Project 614.
“He wasn’t always easy to engage with, but they [the nurses] continued and persisted over coffee with this man and he eventually revealed to them that he had a sore leg,” Major Nottle said.
“They checked it, called an ambulance and got him into hospital urgently and realised he was about to lose his left leg in eight weeks, and his right leg in one week if he didn’t receive treatment.”
“And as a result of not just one conversation, but multiple conversations over several coffees with that man, his legs were saved.”
Lord Mayor Sally Capp echoed this sentiment and said beyond being a popular fuel source for the city’s population, coffee was a catalyst for engagement and connections.
“Here at Salvation Army, it is about providing support, it is about providing solace at times of need, and it is about providing a safe place for people to come and have important conversations that can create a different trajectory in their lives,” Cr Capp said.
The coffee machines at Project 614’s Magpie Nest Cafe were donated by 7-Eleven seven years ago, which has also contributed an estimated $50,000 a year in coffee beans, cups, and equipment, Major Nottle said.
“I’m sure there have been people across 7-Eleven who have face-palmed themselves and thought: ‘who actually suggested the idea of free servicing of that coffee machine at the Salvos’, because it’s the busiest 7-Eleven coffee machine in the nation!” he said.
Project 619 offers vulnerable members of the community a hot meal, housing, free legal assistance, showers, haircuts, food and a friendly face to talk with, 24/7.
It’s a city-focused initiative that Major Nottle started to seek out for those living on the fringes of society to help them ease their way back in.
Leading a small team of dedicated staff and more than 1000 volunteers, Major Nottle works on establishing one-on-one relationships with homeless and disadvantaged people to get them what they need.
“I think one of the important things as a city, we’re now moving into recovery coming out of COVID and we want to make sure – and we see this from the City of Melbourne – that the recovery is not just for people like us, but it’s a recovery for all, no one left behind,” Major Nottle said •