Haymarket donation system nets almost $47K, providing 4,358 meals in 2019

  • A jar and sign for the Common Account at the Haymarket Cafe, owned by Peter Simpson, used to feed people who can’t afford to pay. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Simpson, owner of Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, talks about the Common Account used to feed people who can’t afford to pay. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Simpson, owner of Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, talks about the Common Account used to feed people who can’t afford to pay. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hilary Talbot, an employee at Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, helps a customer with an order. Next to Talbot is the jar and sign for the Common Account, a donation-based system used to feed people who can’t afford to pay. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Beverly Herbert, a customer at Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, donates to the Common Account, which is used to help feed people who can’t afford to pay. “That’s why I come here because they have this option — they have good food, too, but when I have extra, I can help out others,” said Herbert. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A jar and sign at Haymarket Cafe explaining the Common Account, a donation-based system used to feed people who can’t afford to pay. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2020 7:17:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Haymarket Cafe has been a part of downtown Northampton since 1991. But a defining feature of the now-iconic coffee shop and restaurant isn’t even three years old.

The Common Account at the Haymarket Cafe helps to cover the cost of providing heavily discounted meals for anyone who asks for them. From January through December of last year, 4,358 of these meals were served, and $46,865 was donated to the account, a sum that includes the money paid by people who use the account. That covered approximately 89% of the retail costs of the meals; the rest is taken on by the restaurant.

“I’m really just a conduit for this,” said Haymarket owner Peter Simpson, who gave the credit to the customers and the cooks.

Simpson said that the Common Account was created to deal with the issue of hunger in a systemic manner. And he noted that the account allows homeless people to order a meal and be treated like anyone else.

“They’re like a normal customer,” he said.

He noted that those who are not homeless have used the account as well.

Additionally, Simpson said that he’s frustrated with the limited number of places for people who are homeless to go in the city, citing Haymarket, the Library and Bruegger’s Bagels as places that buck the trend.

“Where else can you go, in this town?” he asked. “Why is there no place for people?”

Last year was one of change for the Common Account. As originally conceived, those who used the account paid what they wanted. However, Simpson said, this became unsustainable because Haymarket was sometimes serving 30-45 meals a day.

The account switched over last year to charging 25% of the cost of the meal. However, Simpson said that this confused people, and a woman in the homeless community explained to him that it was easier for them to know what dollar amount was required for them to get a meal. So he instituted a price of $3 per meal for Common Account users.

“As soon as I did that, boom! People started coming in again,” he said.

Simpson estimated that Haymarket now serves 15 meals a day through the Common Account.

“I can make that work,” he said.

Those using the Common Account can purchase any meal on the menu for $3, with a few exceptions. Drinks and items like pastries cannot be purchased as part of the Common Account, and takeout is also not allowed with it. The Common Account is only available from noon to 9 p.m. Previously, it had been available for breakfast, but the demand overwhelmed the morning crew.

“I couldn’t sustain it,” Simpson said.

Some of the meals people can purchase using the Common Account include Coconut Curry, a vegetable curry served over brown or jasmine rice whose menu price is $10.50; a Tempeh Burger, which has greens, roasted red peppers and cheddar cheese on it and is listed at $10.25 for a full sandwich; a Quinoa Salad, which includes roasted eggplant and is served with hummus and flatbread and is listed at $11.75; and the Southern Fried Tofu sandwich, which has tomato, basil mayonnaise, and greens on it and is listed at $10.25 for a sandwich.

Beverly Herbert, who lives in Holyoke and works in Northampton, said that she gives to the Common Account when she has extra cash.

“I try to come when I can to eat here and give,” she said.

She also said that she likes to frequent the Freckled Fox Cafe in Florence, which has a Giving Tree system. That’s a way for people to buy and place vouchers for coffee and food items on the tree; those vouchers can then be redeemed, no questions asked.

Claudia Ciano, a Whately resident and a regular at Haymarket, said that she is “very touched” by the Common Account, which she said she donates to regularly.

“I’m impressed with them doing this,” said Ciano.

She said that she is “affluent compared to most of the world” and that she can never give enough back.

“This is one little way,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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