News / Halifax

A token of change: Halifax cafe helping those in need with a hand up

Anyone can buy subsidized tokens at The Nook in Halifax, which can then be redeemed for food.

Owner Nicole Myles Brook holds a mug full of tokens, redeemable for a coffee and bagel or full meal at The Nook.

Haley Ryan / Metro

Owner Nicole Myles Brook holds a mug full of tokens, redeemable for a coffee and bagel or full meal at The Nook.

A Halifax cafe is hoping their new token program can be a “seed for change” for those needing a hand up.

The Nook Espresso Bar and Lounge on Gottingen Street launched their new token project early this week, where small black and white tokens representing coffee and a bagel ($2) or a full meal ($5) can be purchased for a lower price point and either given to someone else or suspended in the coffee shop for another person to use.

“Any one of us could have ended up in the position of being food insecure,” co-owner Nicole Myles Brook said in an interview.

“We’re hoping that this creates more dialogue and awareness and engagement. Part of having this physical token is that people can take them with them and hand them out - shake a hand, start a conversation.”

Myles Brook, who took over The Nook with her husband last May, said emphasizing social enterprise has been an important aspect of the business. They wanted to create a program that offered choice and independence over a “beggars can’t be choosers” mindset that people can have around those accessing charity.

“What we wanted to do was offer a hand up to people, instead of a hand out.”

All proceeds from the tokens go into covering part of the food and labour cost associated with the meals, the rest of which is subsidized by The Nook to keep the cost accessible, Myles Brook said.

They also have a partner in Izzy’s Bagels, who supplies frozen bagels at a lower cost for the project - not a “lesser quality,” Myles Brook said, just a different format.

After researching different social enterprise strategies, Myles Brook said they found tokens with a specific redeemable item have had a lot of success, which also sidesteps the “stigmatized ideas around giving people cash or money.”

“I think a lot of dialogue gets lost on how to help people,” Myles Brook said. “My hope is that the kindness element and the goodwill element will supercede any other things.

“No one is perfect at any of this and we’re all human. Our hope is that this is really well received and people do see the dignity in it, but the last thing we would want would be anybody to take offence to any part of the program.”

As a business owner in the North End, an area grappling with gentrification, Myles Brook said many in the community and their patrons are being marginalized and they want to exist “in a space where everyone is valued as a person, and everyone contributes.”

“Anybody whose prospects are better than somebody else’s should be helping,” she said.

“While you do have to make money to have a viable and sustainable business in terms of your bottom line, I think that’s not the only thing that you need to be focusing on.”

On Wednesday afternoon, David Redwood was one of a handful of people having coffee at The Nook and said the token project was a great idea and a “non-threatening way to help people who might not be able to ask for help.”

“Poverty is a problem that affects us all, and whether you have money in your pocket or not, poverty’s going to come back and hurt our community,” Redwood said.

Although the project just began, Myles Brook said the response has been very positive so far, and many customers have bought tokens - one person even buying $100 worth of them suspended in the cafe.

Myles Brook said she’d love to see other businesses or organizations follow suit with their own social projects. While food insecurity, homelessness and poverty are all complex issues, she said one person can make a difference and maybe the tokens will act as “seed for change” that can bloom into something bigger.

“We all need help sometimes and there’s lots of us in our community that are facing these challenges, and hopefully the tokens become symbols for something, more than just coffee and a bagel.”

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