Florida churches unite to help charitable coffee company

Martin Kabaki and Purity Gikunju.

By Lacey Johnson

Helping those in need comes naturally to Purity Gikunju and Martin Kabaki. For more than 10 years, the Florida couple has run the Growers Alliance—a fair trade coffee company that donates 10 percent of its sales to improving the lives of coffee growers and communities in Kenya.

When the pandemic struck this spring, the tables turned on Gikunju and Kabaki. Plummeting sales at their café in St. Augustine, coupled with the closure of the local farmers’ market, where they had a food truck, wiped out 70 percent of their earnings overnight.

Now, the husband and wife are seeking financial support from the government to keep their business afloat. A Bread for the World Covenant Church in St. Augustine, the United Church UCC-DOC, stepped up to offer relief. The congregation, along with members of the nonprofits Indivisible St. Johns and Compassionate St. Augustine, are encouraging their networks to buy Growers Alliance gift cards to ensure the small business survives the coronavirus crisis.

After everything that Growers Alliance has done to help coffee farmers and needy communities in Kenya, supporting the business was an easy decision for church leaders, says Warren Clarke, who heads the Peace and Justice Initiative at The United Church of Christ.

“We have less than 35 members, and I believe we’ve contributed well over $1,000 so far. We’re a very social justice conscious congregation,” says Clarke. “This is an amazing couple.”

Kabaki, 45, and Gikunju, 43, grew up in Kenya’s coffee-growing region and relocated to Florida in 1999. Despite their similar backgrounds, the couple didn’t meet until 2006, when they crossed paths at a coffee conference in Seattle. They soon discovered that they shared the same passion for importing Kenyan coffee and giving back to their communities.

“On the coffee farms, we had no running water. We barely had enough food, and we would go to school with no shoes,” says Gikunju, who comes from a family of coffee growers.

She and Kabaki were both amazed when they saw how much people were paying for coffee in the United States.

“I called my family, and I said, ‘Look, we have coffee. We need to figure out how to get that coffee in this country,’” remembers Gikunju. “One cup of coffee means a meal for a family of five in Kenya.”

In 2008, Kabaki and Gikunju launched the Growers Alliance. The business began selling fair trade coffee at local farmers’ markets and eventually expanded into a brick-and-mortar café in 2017. They also distribute their coffee to Publix, Winn-Dixie, Whole Foods, and other regional grocers.

Over the years, the proceeds have funded numerous projects in Kenya, including a dialysis clinic, clean water wells, and new school buildings. The couple also organizes workshops to educate people about HIV, empower women, and teach coffee growers about sustainable farming methods.

As if that weren’t enough, at home in St. Augustine, they often do charitable work to support people experiencing homelessness. And, despite the financial hardship caused by the pandemic, Growers Alliance continues to serve others by giving free coffee to healthcare workers and first responders at the café’s drive-thru. 

“They are profound Christians,” says Clarke, “and it’s an amazing contribution that they make in our community.”

To support the Growers Alliance, consider purchasing coffee or gift cards at growersalliance.com.

Lacey Johnson is a freelance writer and photographer based in Washington, D.C. Florence French Fagan, a Florida senior state organizer with Bread for the World, contributed to this story. 

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