Harmony Café is still looking to find a permanent location around Patchogue for Long Island’s first pay-what-you-can community café that’s open to everyone.
In the meantime, a deal has been struck to hold monthly “pop-up” cafés at the Patchogue VFW.
Prior Coverage: Pay-what-you-can café envisioned for Patchogue
Harmony Café founder Rosemarie McCarthy said the idea is to simulate what lunch would be like at a café where people from all backgrounds would either pay what’s requested for a meal, pay more, pay less, or pay nothing at all.
Those people paying less or nothing would instead volunteer to help the café operate.
“I’ve found this is what a lot of the community cafés [elsewhere in the country] do when they’re first starting up,” McCarthy said. “They’ll have these pop-up events, but meanwhile they’re out looking for a place. And it helps with getting people on board; eople love the idea, but right now there’s nothing visual for me to point to.”
She said VFW Post 2913 Commander George Barrett didn’t think twice about offering up the Edwards Street hall, which has a large kitchen that’s needed to cook nutritious meals on-site, for the one-day lunches.
“He said yes right away and I was shocked; I hear a lot of ‘no’s.’ He said yes and I was like, what the heck is going on?” McCarthy said.
Barrett, a Vietnam veteran who served with the U.S. Army, said it’s the VFW’s mission not only to help veterans, but the community at large. Playing host to a café for people in need of a hand-up (not a hand-out, as the saying goes) would serve both VFW constituents, because some of those in need will likely be veterans.
And, he said, the extra attention for the VFW might lead to some new members.
“They just want to help the community,” he said of McCarthy and her twin sister, June, who is also a board member of the Harmony Café nonprofit organization. “This is great because we’re helping out too, and maybe it will help bring in some vets. It’s a big circle. It all comes around.”
The first Harmony Café pop-up lunch will be April 21 and run from 12:30 to 3 p.m., with the last sitting at 2:15 p.m. The lunches will be held once a month, with the exception of May. (Check back at greaterpatchogue.com for details on the first event.) There will also be music at each lunch, with local singer and guitarist Skip Bement performing in April.
Because of insurance, planning and financial concerns, the pop-ups at the VFW have to be invite-only, McCarthy said. (Those looking for invites can email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
An actual, permanent community café would be open to the public, like any luncheonette.
“We can’t have [walk-in diners and be open to the public], because that’s a whole different type of insurance,” McCarthy said. “So we’re going to invite people from organizations that need our services, who align with what we’re doing, as well as community leaders and veterans groups.”
On the day of the event, there will be a donation box, along with a suggested donation for the meal. That process will be discreet, McCarthy explained; no one will know who paid less than the suggested donation for lunch, though the hope is those people will offer to volunteer in some form.
“Maybe stick around and break down some tables,” Barrett suggested.
But anyone can volunteer, McCarthy wanted to stress, no matter what they pay for the meals.
“Pay extra and volunteer,” McCarthy laughed. “That would be great.”
Visit the Harmony Café website to learn more or contact the group.
Click here to follow the group’s Facebook page.
Photo: Rosemarie McCarthy, George Barrett and June McCarthy outside the VFW Thursday. (Michael White)