• "Having fun, making new friends and investing in human capital is what we do," at Darcy Street Project. (Instagram)Source: Instagram
From pay-it-forward coffee schemes and free breakfasts, to helping at-risk youth learn life skills, these enterprises are doing good.
Kylie Walker

6 Aug 2018 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2018 - 12:22 PM

“People who come here seem to have one thing in common and that is they are kind. We believe the new cool is kindness,” says Janice Pullinen from Adelaide’s Inspire Café, one of the growing number of cafes that aim to make a real difference to the lives of people who are isolated, homeless or in need in some other way.

Inspire, run by the Women of Worth not-for-profit foundation, offers a safe space for those in need. “Many days we have people who pop in for a coffee, read a book or do some study and end up staying for hours. We love it. We believe people need people. Kindness is the key to it all. One coffee can change a life,” she says.

Pullinen is not alone in believing that a coffee, or a cafe, can make a real difference. Here are five inspiring cafes from across Australia.

Café Edge

A lot of people come to Café Edge for the good food, the warm welcome from founder Nikki Cheslin, or even the occasional plate-smashing Greek theme nights. But this colourful café in Beenleigh in Queensland has also been helping at-risk locals in a raft of ways since it opened in 2014.

The café helps fund the On The Edge charity that Cheslin and her husband started in the Logan area in 1998, as well as offering meals and more.

“We feed the homeless every morning. We also have shower facilities, counselling, clothes etcetera,” says Cheslin. “And we have a Street Edge vehicle that goes out at night and meets the homeless where they are at. We don't maintain the homeless, we help them up.”

“I love helping people… letting them know that someone loves them and cares for them even in their darkest days. Letting them know that there is a way out and up.” Part of her drive to help comes from personal experience: “I myself used to be homeless, running from domestic violence with two small children in the 80s,” says Cheslin. 

At Café Edge, those in need can come for the free breakfast that’s always on offer, or to claim a free meal or coffee from the café’s “pay it forward” board, or the wholesome food on the menu.

“The burger recipe goes back to my childhood days when my parents owned a takeaway shop in Bondi, Sydney. They migrated to Australia from Greece. Our patties are the best,” says Cheslin.


In an area that was once a car park, tucked in the vibrantly street-art-decorated Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s CBD, this social enterprise run by front-line charity Youth Projects is giving young trainees a chance to learn job skills. The tiny café-cum-op shop sits next door to another Youth Projects initiative, the Living Room health and support service, which offers free showers and laundry, clothing, food, cooking classes, internet access, medical care and more.

Melanie Raymond, chair of the Youth Projects Board of Directors, is realistic about what one café can do.

“The youth unemployment problem's not going to be solved by creating a fleet of baristas. But Good2Go is “absolutely making a difference”, she says.

“To see them transformed, making eye contact, making everyday conversation, learning literacy and numeracy as they count change back and discuss Melbourne with tourists ... These are things they never thought they would do.”

So far 20 trainees have worked in the café. The trainees, aged 15 to 21, come from diverse backgrounds.

“It's quite a multi-cultural mix partly because Melbourne's upper Northwest [where Youth Projects is focussed, and where the trainees come from] is one of the most multi-cultural communities in the state, and so are the young people,” Raymond says.

A key part of Good2Go is the Pay it Forward board.

“We really encourage people to do that because it's much loved and very much appreciated,” Raymond says. “These frozen mornings in Melbourne, the difference between someone who's slept rough all night in the cold and their first hot drink that they've got into them, they're like a different person.”

Inspire Café

“Our aim is to inspire others to inspire themselves,” says Janice Pulinen, founder of Women of Worth and the organisation’s 100 per cent volunteer-run café, which opened in December 2017 in the Adelaide suburb of Clearview, alongside a thriving second-hand store.

“We started with the op shop and noticed a lot of people who were in a need of a chat and some help. So from there we had the vision to open up the Inspire Café,” Pullinen says.

“The cafe is known as a place you can come and relax and enjoy great coffee and food. Most importantly it provides anyone a safe place to come and find support from the staff and volunteers.

“We spend time with those in need, those who are lonely, those who are living at a disadvantage. We have assisted teenagers up to the elderly in their 70s. We always make sure we have someone on who is able to sit with them, chat and assist.” Those who need more formal help are referred to other networks.

The café also offers weekly Find Your Mojo workshops to help women looking for work and or trying to rebuild their confidence; holds regular garage sales to raise money; and has an Indigenous art program that runs three days a week. 

Even the kitchen offers a chance to spread some kindness. “All the food is cooked here. Our kitchen is also a place where others can come and volunteer their cooking and baking skills and at the same time learn coffee making.” So what’s the current best seller? The Outback pie, made with kangaroo meat, carmelised onion and buttery cabbage. But almost as popular are the scones, which regularly sell out.  


This café’s name sums up why it exists: MADCOW stands for “make a difference, change our world”, and it’s the umbrella name for a raft of programs that help people who are at risk or homeless in the central Victorian city of Bendigo.

“Bendigo did not need any more cafes. We have many, but I wanted a café where the homeless and vulnerable felt welcome, cared for and could access food for free,” says Matthew Parkinson, community care director with Bendigo Baptist Community Care. “We also provide hot meals during normal café hours for anyone who is homeless and we run a [free] breakfast program each Tuesday morning from the café. On top of that, we know that if people are comfortable in our environment they will open up and seek further help. …People will often chat over a meal or a cuppa. This is why the café exists.”

One day, the MADCOW café might be hosting a group of local Karen refugees (Bendigo Baptist Community Care also runs a cleaning service that offers training and employment for some of the roughly 1000 people from the south-east Asian Karen ethnic group living in Bendigo) enjoying the menu of burgers, coffee and affordably-priced staples. On another day, a table might be used for a game of chess, or a relaxed chat between a volunteer and someone in need. Locals pop in for a coffee, a bite to eat, or to volunteer.

“We try and find the balance between ensuring the café is appealing to the public but still fulfils our vision. At the end of the day, it still has to pay wages and exist in its own right.”

The café also works with local job agencies to give work experience to those who might be struggling to get a job, giving them skills and confidence. The kitchen is also used to support other MADCOW programs, including the free breakfasts served five mornings a week at a local primary school, and the food provided to at-risk and homeless people through the café and other initiatives.

MADCOW Mugs is the name of the café’s pay it forward scheme, where people who visit the café can pay for an extra cuppa, to be served up to someone in need. “It’s a way of trying to encourage people to think of others,” says Parkinson. “But if there are no free ones available we still give them out.”

Darcy Street Project

It started with a couple of coffee roasters in founder John Cafferatta’s garage, but this coffee-for-good project, which helps migrants, youths and others gain skills and work experience, has grown rapidly since it started in 2014.

Based in the heart of Parramatta – and with a new site in Sydney’s CBD -  Darcy Street Project is using coffee to help address unemployment in Western Sydney.

The name comes from the location of the project’s first shop in Paramatta. The project is now based in a laneway at Paramatta’s Horwood Place car park, with a new venture recently opened in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall, a busy pop-up and mobile training schedule at numerous locations, and a third site, also in Paramatta, in the works.

“We're setting up a coffee school,” Cafferatta explains. “When all the students practice, instead of throwing those beverages in the bin or down the sink, we're literally right next door to Parramatta Mission Church so we created a partnership where we'll be giving coffees for free to the homeless.”

It’s a move in keeping with Darcy Street Project’s original mission to help people.

“By creating an inclusive and safe environment we allow students from all backgrounds to feel comfortable speaking up and engaging with customers,” the project’s website explains.

“We've had so many different cultures [in training] it's like we're the UN of coffee in Parramatta,” Cafferatta says. 

SBS's new season of Filthy Rich & Homeless is an honest and compassionate exploration of what it’s like to be homeless in Australia today as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored. Watch the trailer below:

Filthy Rich and Homeless airs over three nights – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August on SBS from 8.30pm. A special live studio program will air directly after episode three.

Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless

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