Cappuccinos and Computers – New Hell’s Kitchen cafe serves the community with a tech-driven mission

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New Yorkers looking for a charming caffeine and community contribution need look no further than W57th Street and 10th Avenue at Hell’s Kitchen – where a brand new cafe and computer donation site are used to support children.

Cecilia Solano and David Neeman at the new Hell’s Kitchen storefront on W57th Street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The loyalty foundationa non-profit charitable organization dedicated to providing underserved communities with technical equipment and educational programs, and Gift Coffee, a locally owned Colombian fair trade coffee company, has partnered to open a donation center and cafe at 469 W57th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues). Visitors and locals can enjoy freshly made beverages and donate tech equipment for community use or responsible recycling. A percentage of every sale is donated to the Loyalty Foundation, which partners with organizations across the city and nationally to ensure schools and community groups have technology that is free and accessible to all students. .

The Loyalty Foundation’s work at the Police Athletic League on W52nd St in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo provided

“We wanted to bring something to the neighborhood that the community could rally behind,” said the Loyalty Foundation founder. David Neman. “We wanted to bring more visibility to what we do at the foundation – to ensure a local presence and spread the word.”

Neeman has lived with his family in Hell’s Kitchen since 2006 and has seen firsthand the impact inclusive access to technology education can have. A practicing attorney, he’s moved from a decade of working in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to the tech industry, where “I’ve really seen how powerful these tech trainings can be in creating a lucrative future for people. And how there was so little diversity in the industry.

David Neeman at the new Hell’s Kitchen storefront on W57th Street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The after-school coding program at SP 111, where her son attended school, deepened his understanding of the tech industry’s inequities. “When I dropped him off at class, I was very excited to pick him up.” But when Neeman picked up his son from the paid program, “I saw there was no diversity in the class. So that’s where we started. This type of education should be free. Someone should provide this education for free,” he added.

Neeman and his wife, operations manager Elizabeth Streat, started the Loyalty Foundation out of their Hell’s Kitchen apartment, with the aim of partnering “with community organizations that provide free after-school summer activities for children and ask them to inject coding into their curriculum, which we would pay for. They opted for the name partly derived from that of Neeman (which means “loyalty” in Hebrew) and primarily rooted in the concept of community care. “The word loyalty is such a critical and important word because it’s something that everyone wants and desperately needs and which seems to be less and less available in our society today,” Neeman said. “The concept of loyalty is – when you’re loyal to something or someone, it’s something outside of yourself.”

Ki’ye received a Chromebook during the recent distribution in Newark. Photo provided

In addition to working with PS 111, The Loyalty Foundation partners with W52nd Street Police Sports League and W49th Street Urban Assembly Gateway School of Technology to provide inclusive and immersive technology programming, and equipment for young New Yorkers to participate.

“We were working with technology education programs when COVID-19 happened,” Neeman said. “We moved our programs online and some of our students didn’t have computers. So even though it wasn’t in our budget, we launched our Devices 4 All program. We’ve now provided nearly 2,000 computers nationwide – and it all started with small donations from individual Hell’s Kitchen supporters.

Slowly, community donations led to larger corporate contributions, including from big-name organizations like the Artisan Vendor Platform Etsy and feeling of play Roblox. Now the foundation hopes to create showcase revenue streams “that make us less reliant on donations,” Neeman said.

Police Athletic League kids learn the basics of robotics in 2019 with the Loyalty Foundation. Photo provided

Looking for a way to attract locals to the donation center, Neeman turned to another local philanthropic venture to join The Loyalty Foundation’s showcase. The inspiration came after a trip to the cinemas in Lincoln Square where he stopped for a coffee at the nearby Don Café cart. “Their coffee was really delicious and the owners were very cool, so I got in touch,” he said.

Founded in 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia, by mother-son duo Cecilia Solano and Carlos Guzman, the Don Café team was already familiar with community care before setting up shop in New York in 2014. Sourcing coffee directly from small troublemakers (coffee growers) who have proven themselves to be socially responsible and who employ environmentally sustainable farming practices, the company also makes regular donations to Fundevida — a non-profit association providing social assistance to children with cancer and hematological diseases — and the HIT Foundation (HIT Foundation), a non-profit organization that provides sports programs for young boys from disadvantaged communities in Cartagena.

Looking for a permanent showcase and a way to continue giving back locally, Guzman and Solano wanted to partner with the nonprofit tech association. “Our collaboration with the Loyalty Foundation is exemplified by the phrase ‘coffee with a purpose,’ which was tagged by our longtime employee and consultant, Santos Sayago,” Guzman said. “It has never been enough for us to just be in business. We are also keen to create social impact through the success of our businesses. Teaming up with Loyalty Foundation allows us to grow by forging a new relationship with an organization doing critical tech work with children in disadvantaged communities across the United States.

Neeman hopes the new cafe will create an easy and social way for locals to get involved. “I think people want to help. They just don’t know how to do it,” he said. “It’s easier to get someone’s old computer or to buy them a coffee than to ask for donations. And I hate asking for money, even though it’s an important part of the job.

In the few weeks since its opening, the cafe has already had a warm reception on the West Side. “The reception we’ve had locally has been very, very strong,” Neeman said. “The coffee is really delicious, so people really like coffee. People started giving away their computers. I think the community embraces it. The response has been great and we want it to be even bigger. I think if more people knew about us, and if they knew that by buying coffee from us rather than anyone else, the money would go directly to the foundation – they might be more interested in us support,” he added.

“The real concept behind this storefront is to center a place where the community cares, not just in New York, but across the country,” Neeman said, adding that in three years the foundation has s has expanded to partner with community activists and organizers nationwide.

He acknowledges that while they have been able to make progress in ensuring that students in Hell’s Kitchen and New York have better access to equipment, there is still room for improvement.

“The goal is to create a movement and I think Hell’s Kitchen is the perfect place to do that. Not only is it close to the heart, being from here, but it’s where it all started. And the café is a place where people come to congregate and provide computers – we’re just trying to figure out how to involve the community more and more,” Neeman said. “It’s a community that I think has really stayed true to its traditions and heritage, but has become inclusive. Hell’s Kitchen is just a real place where real people live and people aren’t afraid to speak up and be who they are – and they want to make a difference.

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