(“The Cooler of Hope” Original artwork created by Karen Marcum, inspired by Mollie Erickson’s driveway. Notecards of “The Cooler of Hope” are available on the Community on the Rise Facebook page. Proceeds support the efforts to feed our neighbors.)
At OHenry’s, we are energized every day by building connections and community around a great cup of coffee. We love drinking coffee more than we care to admit, but as Simon Sinek says, “If we want to feel an undying passion for our work if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.” Our “why” is creating a space where our communities can connect.
But no matter how good the coffee is, building connections and community only happen when people engage. We are so grateful for the communities that have welcomed OHenry’s. As a matter of fact, we are in awe of the communities we call home. During this COVID-19 crisis, we have seen astonishing examples of love and kindness, and many who are striving to overcome physical distancing and build connections. We want to share one such story that started in our Homewood. This small act of kindness is sending ripples across the country.
Dr. Henry Bright started OHenry’s in 1993. In its founding days, the employees developed a special bond. The days were long but fulfilling. Looking back they have fond memories, like sealing coffee bags with a flat iron and earning a few minor burns! One of those early baristas was Blake Stevens, the current owner of OHenry’s.
Mollie Erickson was another barista in the mid-1990s. During her freshman year at Birmingham-Southern College, she worked part-time, making coffee and lattes at our original location in downtown Homewood.
Mollie has an effect on people that is best characterized by one of her favorite quotes, “No one can do everything, but every person can do one thing.” Mollie inspires people to become their best selves, and that has never been more evident than during COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, it had devastating consequences that many of us in the suburbs didn’t perceive. When homeless shelters closed or restricted their activities, many of Birmingham’s citizens were left hungry. Community on the Rise organized a group of volunteers to drop food at strategic locations to help fill the gap. Mollie volunteered for one of the routes. She also started recruiting volunteers from the community to provide food. Her driveway quickly became a Homewood landmark with dozens of volunteers dropping off food each morning.
Blake noticed people posting pictures of his old friend Mollie’s driveway on Facebook. He decided to reach out to see if there was anything that OHenry’s could do to help. OHenry’s donated food to the effort, but that connection led to another interesting collaboration.
As COVID-19 spread across the country, news reports focused on a shortage of protective gear nationwide. Mollie started making masks, initially testing a bread bag tie for the nose pinch, but that didn't give the mask the stability she wanted. Then she saw a coffee bag, and an idea struck. Mollie realized the coffee bag tie was the perfect solution. Having finalized her design, she sent out a request to friends asking for their old coffee bag ties. When Blake saw this request, he thought, “Now, this is a way that OHenry’s can help!”
24 hours later, Mollie had 1,000 coffee bag ties.
When people engage and serve their communities, the effects ripple out and impact lives in unexpected ways. A few days after donating the coffee bag ties, Blake was on the phone with TricorBraun Flex Inc., the manufacturer that supplies OHenry’s bags. TricorBraun Flex, Inc. has 4,500 customers in more than 50+ countries with a focus on coffee, tea, pet food, specialty foods, and other niche markets. Blake shared this little story about an unexpected use for their coffee bag ties, and they responded immediately.
“How can we help?”
Within a few days, they had donated 10,000 coffee ties to the effort.
“When we see someone making a difference like this, it’s natural to want to help,” said Whitney Smyth of TricorBraun Flex. “We have supported The Coffee Trust and a variety of philanthropic initiatives for years, but we had never heard of someone using our coffee ties in such a creative and positive way.”
Soon, dozens of people across Homewood joined in the effort. A few small businesses even jumped in. Kripalani’s Hong Kong Tailor leveraged their expert sewing skills to assist with mask production. We are sure that these must be the finest “homemade” masks in history!
This is how things happen as you are building connections and community. One person has an idea as she stands in her kitchen, looking at a coffee bag. A local business engages to help the effort along. A corporation steps up to provide supplies for the effort. Local businesses leverage their unique skills to help. Individuals answer the call to do something.
This is how we stay connected during the greatest trial that our generation has ever faced.
We at OHenry’s would like to tip our hat to our community. You are beautiful, and you make this world a better place.