Pay it Forward: Sydney's Feel-Good Cafe – Hope 103.2

Pay it Forward: Sydney’s Feel-Good Cafe

One Sydney cafe's 'Pay it forward' campaign began as COVID relief supporting frontline workers, but it has now grown into helping many in need across our city.

By Michael CrooksFriday 30 Apr 2021Finance and Business

It’s the coffee that gives you a feel-good buzz – but it’s got nothing to do with the caffeine.

Cohab Coffee in Darlinghurst is a cafe that has an online system that lets customers order coffee, soup or a sandwhich for a homeless person, or for someone who’s struggling financially from the pandemic.

And on “Pay it Forward Day” this week (April 28) business was booming as usual.

“On more than one occasion [the generosity] has actually taken my breath away,” Cohab Coffee owner Christine Lani-McAllister said of her campaign.

“I get people coming in saying, ‘I’m on holiday next week, can I pay for five coffees that I won’t be having, and you give them to somebody?’”

Woman on a mission

The campaign began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, just after Ms Lani-McAllister had started her cafe business on the normally bustling Oxford Street.

But when the city went under lockdown, the business was in trouble.

Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by

“I went through the motions of ‘what do I do here?’” she told Hope 103.2. “Do I just close?”

But after having a Zoom chat with friends, an idea was born.

Given the cafe is near St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst, Ms Lani-McAllister, 38, launched a campaign, where people could buy coffees for healthcare workers.

She posted the idea on social media.

“All of these people started sharing the post,” she said.

“Within the first couple of days, 200 coffees had been bought.”

Booming business

And the campaign kept growing.

“A man said, ‘I want to buy 100 coffees for the nurses on International Nurses Day,’” Ms Lani-McAllister recalled.

And one day, a St Vincent’s nurse visited the cafe and asked for a coffee. When she went to pay, Ms Lani-McAllister told her it had already been paid for through the campaign.

“She was like, ‘What do you mean?’

“So, I told her about the campaign, and she started crying. She said, ‘It’s been a really rough week, you don’t understand how much this means to me.’”

“I told her about the campaign, and she started crying. She said, ‘It’s been a really rough week, you don’t understand how much this means to me.’” – Cohab Coffee owner Christine Lani-McAllister on someone receiving a Pay it forward coffee

Mission’s new focus to help those most in need

These days, Ms Lani-McAllister continues her mission, but with a focus on the homeless and battlers.

Working with Darlinghurst community centre Rough Edges, she uses Pay it forward funds to buy batches of soup for the homeless, or coffees and sandwiches for those who recently lost their jobs or who are struggling financially.

Working with Darlinghurst community centre Rough Edges, Cohab Coffee uses Pay it forward funds to buy batches of soup for the homeless, or coffees and sandwiches for those who recently lost their jobs or who are struggling financially.

Since the barista began the crusade, Ms Lani-McAllister has made 2000 coffees from Pay it forward funds.

“It’s definitely shaped my experience of the pandemic,” Ms Lani-McAllister said, who also performs in Sydney as stand-up comedian.

“When I look back at 2020, I don’t say, ‘That was a terrible year.’ I look back and say, ‘Wow, I got to be part of a chain of such human kindness, compassion and community’.”

“Wow, I got to be part of a chain of such human kindness, compassion and community,” – Cohab Coffee owner and Sydney stand-up comedian Christine Lani-McAllister

Pay it forward at Cohab Coffee here.