By Jack Chesnutt, Producer, NBC News
(Denver, CO) In many ways, nothing has changed at the SAME Café in mid-town Denver. A week ago, we brought in the NBC News camera and recorded a typical Friday lunch rush- about 80 customers ate a dozen pizzas, several gallons of soup and a bushel of salad. We were there because a viewer had e-mailed Brian Williams that the couple who run the café, Brad and Libby Birky serve great food, but accept in return only what the customer can afford.
Some pay nothing, while others, who still have jobs and paychecks pay something, sometime double or even triple what the meal would cost anywhere else in town. This Friday was just as busy as the last.
But, a week after we visited the SAME Café, some things have changed. As we left that day, I cautioned Libby that they would likely receive calls and e-mails about their café and the kindness they were sharing with others. I'll be the first to confess to under-estimating the response to come after our story aired. Within 24 hours, the café's web-site- www.soallmayeat.org was hit with over 4000 e-mails. The messages came from Maine, Alaska, California, and all points in between. They were overwhelmingly warm and supportive. An example: "It's good to know people still care and WILL make the effort to help one another." Libby says it's that kind of comment, "that makes this job worth doing!" She is trying to reply to every one.
The electronic mail almost overwhelmed the capacity of the web-site. Contributions poured in. The SAME Café is a non-profit operation, so they were already set up to accept contributions on-line. So far, the figure is about $13,000. The money is coming in small amounts, primarily from people who will never taste the pizza at the SAME cafe. Brad says they are "flooded" with offers from people from the Denver area to help prepare, cook, and clean up the café. More volunteers than could fit in the café. Brad isn't turning anyone away, "We'll just schedule them in a few weeks down the road, when the rush is over."
After more than two years running the café, Brad knows "the rush" will slow down. The extra contributions received this week are huge, but they are temporary. They will help keep the café running when the e-mail traffic and on-line giving are not in the TV news spotlight.
Many of the regulars were back at the café today- Patrick and Janice, the homeless couple who come in three or four times a week. They couldn't afford a contribution, but Patrick helped clear dirty dishes. Aaron Bogart, the out-of-work drywall installer was there too. He urged me to keep spreading the word about the good works of Brad and Libby. No problem, Aaron! Between taking orders and stirring today's soup (Black Bean), Brad introduced me to some new customers, John Fylpaa with his wife, daughter and grand-kids.
John is Dean of Physical Education at Long Beach City College in Southern California. He had seen the story of the café on Nightly News and took time during his visit to Denver to drop by, have lunch with the family, make a donation, and bring in a case of paper towels, bottles of dish soap, and dozens of cups and glasses. He said the Birkys are "doing important work." He's right.
Next week, next month, and most likely, next year the Birkys' goal for the SAME Café will not change: serving good food to hungry people.