15 Mar 2021

'We're not going anywhere' - Merge celebrates rush of donations

From Checkpoint, 5:46 pm on 15 March 2021

A cash-starved Auckland cafe that feeds the homeless through people "paying it forward" has been saved after the community kicked in tens of thousand of dollars. 

Merge Cafe on Karangahape Road has been a space where the city's homeless can grab a tea or coffee, and where punters can buy a meal for themselves and also one for someone in need. The pay-it-forward system has helped provide for those experiencing hardship since being established in 2010 and run by Lifewise Trust. 

For months it had been running at a loss after Covid-19 lockdowns led to fund-raising events being cancelled, including its annual fundraiser, Auckland's Big Sleep Out. Community lunches at the cafe are $5, while a community roast lunch costs $7.

There had also been fewer paying customers in the CBD, leaving Merge needing $60,000 by the end of this month to avoid going out of business.

After Merge's plight was aired by Checkpoint, the response from the public was overwhelming, manager Manu Kahlom said, and a major fund-raising drive from the community saved the service from folding.

Merge's manager Manu Kahlom told Checkpoint the response had been overwhelming. 

"It's just how many people came forward to help us, especially the local community, but also people who are not living in Auckland, they still helped us... I never expected that much," he said.

Kahlom said people came in to see what the organisation did and donated afterwards, while others simply phoned, emailed and contacted them through social media channels offering support.

The financial backing had well surpassed the $60,0000 needed to keep afloat, he said.

"We've surpassed our target, so we have got at some, like $81,000 or $82,000 at the moment, but there's still people who want to help us so today, so I don't know, maybe $85,000."

He said customers were just as happy as those in the organisation with the response, as there was a sense of relief among people who depended on the service.

"This is like their home and, you know, they are on a shoestring budget, including the pensioners, and ... there was always this question 'oh, if you guys close where are we going to go' and I was trying to reinforce positivity. Now we can actually say, 'hey, you don't need to worry about it, we are not going anywhere'."

Telling customers who came in that the service was guaranteed for the time being put a smile on their faces, he said, but the future remained uncertain.

"Because we we are a social enterprise, and we always need money to ... you know,  keep us afloat," he said.

"This cash injection is very helpful for us to actually keep the doors open for, I don't know how long, but at least a few months for sure. Today it was the best day because people are coming in and I could actually tell them."  

He said those wanting to help could do so through Lifewise or just come into the cafe and have a chat.