The cost of a cup of joe at Leesburg’s newest coffee shop will benefit a growing nonprofit that has seen its needs surge in 2020.
Tree of Life Ministries recently celebrated the opening of its SimplyBe Coffee shop at 940A Edwards Ferry Road in the former Walmart shopping center. It’s a coffee shop with a unique mission, as it employs special needs adults, providing them work skills in a comfortable environment.
“[It’s] an opportunity to provide special needs adults not only a place they can be themselves but to give them an opportunity to work,” said Isabel Mayer, director of Tree of Life’s Leesburg operations.
The coffee shop is an extension of Tree of Life’s ministry for the special needs community, which was started by the nonprofit’s founder Paul Smith in its Purcellville location. The program, called Simply Be, has been growing in its Leesburg community the past few years, providing opportunities for special needs individuals to gather together for fellowship.
“From that we continued to talk through what more could we do,” Mayer said. When the former pawn shop space became available in the shopping center, the opportunity was right.
The employees at the SimplyBe coffee shop are guided by manager Beth Newton, a special education teacher and former Cornerstone Chapel employee. Tree of Life partners with ECHO and Loudoun County Public Schools’ CAST program to find employees for the shop. Mayer said they view this as a pilot season for the shop, but are hopeful for its mission. Right now, they have a rotating schedule with 12 employees.
Tree of Life did its homework in finding the best beans and baked goods to provide in the coffee shop. To find its coffee products, it partnered with Michael Amouri, whose Vienna-based Caffe Amouri has become a destination for area coffee drinkers.
“Anyone that knows Michael or is in the coffee industry in the DMV area knows him very well,” Mayer said. “He has been amazing teaching and training the employees as well.”
“I think if you’re a coffee drinker, you’re really going to enjoy it,” she said of the beverage offerings.
To round out the menu, SimplyBe’s baked goods are provided by a local caterer. Among the highlights are toffee brownies, cookies, and even gluten-free baked goods.
“We wanted to ensure not only is it a feel-good type of thing, but we want to make sure we had a very good product,” Mayer said of the offerings.
Dotting the walls of the coffee shop space is artwork done by members of the local special needs community.
The shop is cashless, accepting only credit and debit cards as forms of payment, and currently operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the potential to expand the hours in the future. All the proceeds from the coffee shop directly benefit the SimplyBe special needs ministry.
The Edwards Ferry shop also serves as an expansion of Tree of Life’s Leesburg operations, with the rear of the 2,000-square-foot building used for the nonprofit’s local food pantry. It’s another opportunity to engage the coffee shop’s employees.
“When there’s downtime [the employees] are not only staying there and preparing for the next wave of customers, they can also go into the back and help out with the pantry and do some volunteer work. They’re constantly being offered the opportunity to learn more skills. It’s really wonderful because they really enjoy that as well,” said Kristen Hickman, director of communications for Tree of Life.
The need for a Leesburg-based food pantry has become clear in the past few years, but perhaps never more than in 2020. The number of individuals served with food donations from Tree of Life has climbed 300 percent this year alone, Mayer said. Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived stateside in March, Tree of Life has increased its food distributions from once to twice weekly, and now serves more than 50 families weekly.
The nonprofit partners with local churches in both of its Loudoun-based communities, Leesburg and Purcellville, to provide support to its five branches of service. Those include food assistance; life skills, including English language instruction and tutoring services for needy families; subsidized housing; healthcare vouchers; and other relief services. On the latter point, Tree of Life has handled 900% more financial relief requests since the pandemic hit with almost 300% additional funds allocated against the prior year.
The community has risen to the occasion to provide Tree of Life with the volunteer and financial support to keep the services running during the trying economic year.
“They bless us,” Hickman said.
At the heart of Tree of Life’s mission is its faith and hope in Jesus Christ, Mayer said. What is unique for the nonprofit, she says, is how it views those they serve.
“We’re building a relationship with those we serve. We don’t use the word clients; we use the word partner. We don’t want to do a handout, we want to do a hand-up. That’s where our five branches come together,” Mayer said.