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New Yorkers searching for charming caffeination and community contribution needn’t look further than W57th Street and 10th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen — where a brand-new coffee shop and computer donation site serves to support children.

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

The Loyalty Foundation, a not-for-profit charity dedicated to providing underserved communities with technical equipment and educational programming, and Don Café, a locally-owned fair-trade Colombian coffee business, have teamed up to open a storefront donation center and café at 469 W57th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues). Visitors and locals can enjoy fresh-brewed beverages and donate tech equipment for community use or responsible recycling. A percentage of each sale is donated to the Loyalty Foundation, which partners with organizations across the city and nationally to ensure schools and community groups have free, accessible technology for all students.  

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

“We wanted to bring something to the neighborhood that the community could rally behind,” said Loyalty Foundation founder David Neeman. “We wanted to bring more exposure to what we’re doing at the foundation — make ourselves a local presence and get the word out.”  

Neeman has lived with his family in Hell’s Kitchen since 2006, and has seen first-hand the impact that inclusive access to tech education can make. A practicing attorney, he went from working a decade in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to the tech sector, where “I really saw how powerful these tech educations can be to create lucrative futures 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 PS 111, where his son attended school, furthered his understanding of the tech industry’s inequities. “When I dropped him off at the class, I was very excited to pick him up.” But when Neeman collected his son at the paid program, “I saw that there was no diversity in the class. So that’s where we started. This kind of education should be free. Someone should be providing this education for free,” he added. 

Neeman and his wife, director of operations Elizabeth Streat, began The Loyalty Foundation out of their Hell’s Kitchen apartment, with the intent of partnering “with community-based organizations that provided free after-school, summer activities to kids and asking them to inject coding into their curriculum, that we would pay for.” They settled on the name partly rooted out of Neeman’s own (which means “loyalty” in Hebrew) and mostly rooted in the concept of community care. “The word loyalty is such a critical, great word because it’s something that everybody desperately wants and needs and seems to be in such dwindling supply in our society today,” said Neeman. “The concept of loyalty is —  when you’re loyal to something or somebody, it’s something outside of yourself.”

Ki’ye got a Chromebook in the recent distribution in Newark. Photo suppied

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

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

Slowly, community donations led to larger corporate contributions, including from big name organizations like artisan vendor platform Etsy and gaming sensation Roblox. Now, the foundation hopes to create storefront revenue streams “that make us less reliant on donations,” said Neeman. 

Childen at the Police Athletic League learn basic robotics in 2019 with the Loyalty Foundation. Photo supplied

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

Founded in 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia by mother-son duo Cecilia Solano and Carlos Guzman, the team at Don Café was already well-versed in community care before bringing their business to New York in 2014. Sourcing their coffee directly from small caficultores (coffee growers) who have proven to be socially responsible and who employ ecologically sustainable farming practices, the company also regularly donates to Fundevida —  a non-profit providing social assistance to children with cancer and hematological illnesses — and the HIT Foundation (Fundación HIT), a non-profit that offers sports programming to young boys in under-resourced communities in Cartagena. 

Searching for both a permanent storefront and a way to continue giving back locally, Guzman and Solano were interested in partnering with the tech not-for-profit. “Our collaboration with Loyalty Foundation is captured by the phrase ‘coffee with a purpose,’ which was tagged by our longtime employee and consultant, Santos Sayago,” said Guzman. “It has never been enough for us to simply be in business. We are also concerned with creating social impact afforded by the success of our ventures. Teaming up with Loyalty Foundation permits us to grow by forging a new relationship with an organization doing critical work in technology with kids from under-resourced communities across the US.”

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

In the few short weeks since its opening, the café has already received a warm West Side welcome. “The reception that we’ve gotten locally has been very, very strong,” said Neeman. “The coffee really is delicious, so people really like the coffee. People have started donating their computers. I think that the community is embracing it. The response has been great and we want it to be even greater. I think if more people knew about us, and if they knew that by buying coffee from us versus anyone else, the money goes directly to the foundation — they might be more interested in supporting,” he added. 

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

He acknowledges that though they’ve been able to make strides in ensuring Hell’s Kitchen and New York students have greater access to equipment, there’s still progress to be made. 

“The goal is to create a movement and I think Hell’s Kitchen is the perfect place to do so. Not only is it close to the heart, being from here, but it’s where it all began. And the coffee shop is a place for people to come and gather and provide computers —  we’re just trying to figure out how to engage the community more and more,” said Neeman. “It’s a community that I think has really stayed true to its traditions and heritage, but grown to be inclusive. Hell’s Kitchen is just a real place where real people live and people are not afraid to express themselves and be who they are — and they want to make a difference.” 

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1 Comment

  1. Praying for your missions to expand and make a continued impact This is truly bringing blessings and a brighter future for so many. Onward and Upward! Sending all the best wishes from Southwest Georgia, Ann

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