VERNON - It wasn’t just a coffee house. It was a platform for human rights issues, a venue for emerging artists, a meeting place for spiritual discourse. There’s much to be said about the Talkin’ Donkey, which will serve its last cup of fair trade coffee at the end of the month.
Due to financial strain, the non-profit coffee house run by the Salvation Army is closing its doors after an eight year run that brought a lot to the community. The ‘coffee house with a cause’ passionately raised awareness about human rights issues and raised funds to free victims of human trafficking. It also took a stand by being one of the first coffee houses in Vernon to serve certified fair trade coffee and using biodegradable cups instead of plastic.
“It costs a little more to do those things,” says David Macbain, spokesperson for the Salvation Army. “But we needed to do it so we honoured our conscience and our ethics and were a good example to our community.”
Gatherings took place every Sunday morning for those interested in spiritual conversations outside the traditional church environment.
Despite efforts to improve revenue, including moving the coffee shop from its 27 Street location to a new space with an adjoining thrift store behind Future Shop, the Talkin’ Donkey hasn’t been financially sustainable for some time.
“After a lot of consideration we’ve agreed it’s a good time for us to bring this endeavour to an end and see what else there might be for the Salvation Army to be involved in,” Macbain says.
It’s a loss not just for those wanting a comfy place to enjoy a cup of fair trade coffee, but for Vernon’s music scene as well. Musicians like Andrew Allen and Jodi Pederson got their starts at the Talkin’ Donkey’s popular open mics, and the venue was a favourite among local bands.
“It was one of those places you didn’t have to front a bunch of money to put on a show,” local musician Luke Mortenson says. “It was an awesome place for all ages. You’d get seniors and high school students in the same room—that doesn’t happen very often.”
Mortenson’s band Paperboy will be playing a show on the Talkin’ Donkey’s last night, March 29. While everyone is sad to see it go, employees and patrons plan to send it off with a celebratory bang for all it’s accomplished.
“There weren’t a lot of options for fair trade coffee when we opened eight years ago,” Macbain says. “With us starting to offer it, advertising it and sharing its importance, fair trade has grown here. We feel we’ve made an impact in that endeavour.”
With the closure of the Talkin’ Donkey, the Salvation Army plans to redirect resources into its other community initiatives, like the food bank and the House of Hope.
If you’ve ever been to the Talkin’ Donkey, you might be interested to know how the coffee house earned its quirky name. It comes from a passage in the bible. A prophet and his donkey are traveling down a road, and God sends an angel to deliver a message to him.
“It’s all about where you are in life and what path you take,” Macbain says.
It’s not so different from the Salvation Army’s current situation with the coffee house. Where one endeavour ends, a new one begins.
“The spirit of the donkey has other things to do,” Macbain says. “It will live on.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com or call 250-309-5230.