“The first day is always exciting, when you can wear something other than black.” Linda Maksic, coffee trainer for Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters, is reflecting on the fun reset in wearing bright yellow for the weeklong CafeSmart program each year. As a hospo veteran who has worked at Toby’s Estate as a barista and roaster previously, she has looked forward to the campaign every year.

“I’ve been really lucky to work in a lot of great hospo venues that have always gotten involved in these community support programs,” says Maksic. “It’s not hard to get people involved in and it’s always a really fun and interactive way of raising awareness.”

The premise of CafeSmart couldn’t be simpler: cafes commit to donating $1 per coffee sold during the weeklong campaign. Then CafeSmart makes targeted donations to grassroots community projects addressing homelessness. Over the past dozen years, the initiative had raised and distributed almost $2 million. This year it runs from August 1 to 7, in the lead-up to the Australia-wide Homelessness Week (Aug 6-12). Like its sibling program DineSmart, CafeSmart is an outgrowth of the larger non-profit StreetSmart, which has distributed $11 million in funds.

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Tens of thousands of women face homelessness every night across Australia, largely due to fleeing domestic and family violence. The second most common reason is the higher costs of living.

Customers don’t necessarily have to contribute anything extra beyond their usual coffee order, though the yellow-themed signage makes them aware of the crucial help they are providing and gives them the opportunity to make an online donation via the featured QR code. “It’s not interrupting anyone’s daily routine,” Maksic says. “You’re coming into your favourite café, and you know your money is going toward something good.”

CafeSmart and related initiatives regularly bestow grants to organisations to help provide essential and innovative responses to homelessness. That includes both regional and metropolitan services for women and children fleeing domestic violence, who are unable to afford safe housing, as well as community legal centres and outreach programs. With rents continually on the rise across Australia, more and more are becoming displaced from reliable housing on a daily basis.

Those facts are brought to light by CafeSmart’s campaigning, continuing the conversation about the right to safe and affordable housing. Whether it’s the posters or the signature yellow shirts, ambassadors like Linda and many other participants from the industry, bring the issue firmly to the front of customers’ minds throughout the weeklong campaign.

“In Sydney we’re really lucky,” says Maksic, nodding to Toby’s Estate’s flagship store in Chippendale. “Once we put everything up, people are quite naturally curious. So that’s always a really good talking point. People do ask about it. It’s more than tokenism.”

As someone who has worked as both a roaster and barista, she points out that CafeSmart has partnership possibilities for cafes and roasters alike. And in her decade-plus run working with coffee, Maksic has observed fellow hospo workers bringing the CafeSmart program with them when they graduate to new workplaces. That way, and through natural word-of-mouth support, the program self-perpetuates from year to year. Customers and cafes alike recognise that the funds raised are going directly back into local communities, where they’re needed most. That makes the members of those same communities keen to contribute every year.

“I’ve been seeing a really great response from the community as a whole,” Maksic says. “And through our roasters, we’re seeing more and more of our café partners getting involved.”

CafeSmart 2023 runs from August 1 to 7. There'll be free coffee on Tuesday August 1 at Axil Coffee Roasters in Melbourne Central from 12pm–2pm and at Toby's Estate Martin Place in Sydney from 10am–12pm. Broadsheet is a proud media partner of StreetSmart.