Early in their 25-year marriage, Brandy and Steve Siewert discovered that they preferred mission trips to vacations.
“We like going to a slum instead of hanging out with a margarita on the beach,” laughed Steve, 54. “We’re weird that way.”
For years, they traveled to underdeveloped, often impoverished parts of the world to work. But none of their trips prepared them for what they saw in Cité Soleil in Haiti, a shantytown in the most destitute corner of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
“It kind of broke us, seeing children sleeping where pigs sleep, just a short plane ride away from our country,” added Brandy, 50. “There are moments in your life when you have an experience you can’t shake. This hung with us.”
That 2015 visit prompted the Waconia couple to ponder how they could help.
What they brewed up was a coffee-based charity.
Since last May, they’ve been selling their Java Relief brand of coffee online, with seven blends that run from light to dark roast, with decaffeinated options as well. Subscribers get fair-trade beans mailed to their homes, formulated and freshly roasted in Waconia and packed and shipped by the Siewerts and their two teenagers.
Currently they’re selling about 100 12-ounce bags a week. With a graphic design background, Steve Siewert, a partner in a marketing and advertising company, created the distinctive branding for the fragrant crimson-and-charcoal packages that subscribers receive.
All Java Relief profits funnel to a nonprofit ministry working with Haitian youths. The first $5,000 raised bought a wheelchair and covered a surgical procedure for two children living in the Haitian slum. The fundraising now underway will go to an orphanage for kids with special needs.
“We show pictures on our website of the actual children we’ve helped,” Brandy said. “We’re working on a personal level rather than trying to help the masses.”
Earlier this month, the couple sold cups of their fresh brewed and cold press coffee at Tour de Tonka, the popular charity bike ride through the western suburbs. And they’re making plans to have a Java Relief booth at Nickle Dickle Day, Waconia’s annual town festival in September.
“These community events give us a chance to hand out some samples and talk to people about what we’re doing,” Steve said. “Some want to become subscribers and others hand us donations to support what we’re doing on a grass-roots level.”
The project has been so well received that the couple are already thinking big about their next step.
“I see a coffee truck where we could build awareness for the needs of these kids and take it on the road,” Steve said.
So far, the Siewerts have made three trips to Haiti, with a fourth planned for this winter. They say they are motivated by their faith. And Brandy hopes their conviction is contagious.
“We believe we’ll find someone as passionate about our cause as we are and they’ll want to donate to help us move forward on a truck,” Brandy said. “I’m thinking big. Maybe we’ll have a whole fleet of them.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis based freelance broadcaster and writer.