Refuge Coffee in Clarkston asks for immediate infusion of $125k to keep operating

Clarkston resident Eyelachew Desto poses in the photo booth during World Refugee Day at Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston on Sunday, June 27. Originally from Ethiopia, Desto said he became a U.S. citizen two months ago. Photo by Dean Hesse

Clarkston, GA — Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston is in a dire financial position, according to an email sent to customers and supporters on Oct. 7.

“We’re asking for $125,000 between now and the end of November in order for this mission to survive,” the email from founder and CEO Kitti Murray says.

Refuge coffee, a nonprofit, provides jobs and job training to resettled refugees or immigrants. The organization is seven-years-old. Its main location is on East Ponce deLeon in Clarkston.

A representative at the store confirmed the email and referred all questions to [email protected] Tucker Observer also left a message with the nonprofit’s board chair seeking comment.

The letter implies there’s been financial mismanagement within the organization.

“How did we get here without knowing sooner? We can attribute it to two main things: Unwise decisions that were accentuated and intensified by the current economy,” the email says. “When we evaluated our finances, it was immediately clear that unwise obligations and overspending in a span of just a few months, made outside of leadership and board approval, had put our financial position in a desperate situation. These decisions combined with a lack of systems to ensure board oversight and accountability were eye-opening.”

The board has connected privately with donors, as already raised $122,000 through those efforts to keep things going.

“We hope sharing these details strengthens your trust and belief in Refuge even more, as well,” the email says. “In the coming weeks, we will go deeper into some of the questions that might have arisen in your mind as a result of this email. Until then, we echo Kitti’s plea to infuse Refuge with the necessary $125,000 by the end of November to stay in operation and return to the healthy and sustainable position that allows us to equip and empower our refugee friends and neighbors to thrive.”

For the donation link, click here.

Here’s the full email from Refuge Coffee:

Dear friends,

It’s now time to say it clearly:

Refuge needs your help.

I’ve talked to a few neighbors who were shocked to hear this. “I don’t understand,” they say. “Refuge seems so upbeat and healthy. Aren’t you doing fine? Why do you need to raise more money?”

This conversation is always followed by, “If Refuge had to shut down altogether, and you didn’t give people the opportunity to help, we would be so hurt.”

I understand. For reasons that will be clear in the letter below, we’ve been slow to share, but much is at stake at this pivotal moment. So, why do we need to raise money right now?:To be able to continue the work we have already established so that we can welcome refugees and immigrants with jobs, training, mentorship, and the hope of thriving in the years to come.

To be able to continue to offer the agendaless, safe community space in Clarkston that has served our city for over seven years.

To be able to continue to tell the more beautiful, accurate refugee story that we get to share every day with simple acts of coffee-wrapped hospitality.

Our mission has not wavered. But this is not hyperbole: It will not happen without a fresh infusion of financial gifts this month. We’re asking for $125,000 between now and the end of November in order for this mission to survive (note breakdown of needs below).

I’ll let our board share more, and I thank you in advance for joining with us in this critical season for the future of Refuge.

______________________________

Dear Friends of Refuge,

About five months ago, the leadership and board of Refuge discovered that the organization was in an extremely unhealthy financial position. We were unable to make payroll, and our cash reserves had been depleted.

How did we get here without knowing sooner?

We can attribute it to two main things: Unwise decisions that were accentuated and intensified by the current economy. When we evaluated our finances, it was immediately clear that unwise obligations and overspending in a span of just a few months, made outside of leadership and board approval, had put our financial position in a desperate situation. These decisions combined with a lack of systems to ensure board oversight and accountability were eye opening.

Additionally, we are living in a complex economic environment for non-profits that has had a significant, negative financial impact. The cost of goods has risen far higher than we can comfortably raise the cost of a cup of coffee. Labor costs are affecting us as much as they are the rest of the country; and, since labor is intrinsically tied to our mission, we have had to address this cost increase to continue to stay on mission. Our friends at Plywood People offered clarifying insight about how inflation is affecting nonprofits in last week’s episode of its podcast.

Since early May, we have been deeply engaged in the work of identifying organizational failures at various levels and repairing those things in timely and thoughtful ways. We also have been sharing our crisis on a one-on-one basis with donors, raising $122,000 from generous and committed friends of Refuge in order to stay afloat.

Specifically, the scope of our work, alongside Kitti, has included:Instituting deep board, legal, and financial advisory support in problem solving and planning

— Developing a plan for financial sustainability that includes a 63% improvement in cash flow due to improved expense management and focused fundraising efforts

— Undergoing a specific location-by-location review and analysis that resulted in the difficult decision to close our under-performing operations at Sweet Auburn

— Collaborating with our bankers to allow us to restructure our credit facilities and improve our working capital position
Removing ourselves from multiple pending contractual obligations and securing donor support to cover other obligations discovered during this process

— Reducing non-trainee staff and streamlining systems to maximize efficiency and productivity
Taking steps to enhance board oversight and organizational accountability, including a commitment by us, the board to:

  • Ask harder questions and seek answers more resolutely
  • Incorporate a stronger mission-focused filter on all decision-making
  • Ensure more robust legal and financial checks and balances, as well as systems for and enforcement of financial controls

Simply raising money is not our purpose in this letter to you, our generous friends and supporters. We’re coming to you now because we think you deserve to know and because we believe you will want to link arms with us to undergird the good and important work of Refuge.

These circumstances are unprecedented in our 7-year history in terms of the pain, internal struggle and important work it has taken to right the course. They are also unique in that they have generated a need to come to you, our faithful community, for support for our survival rather than for our growth. The board stands behind the vision, mission, and organizational health of Refuge more solidly than ever before. We are grateful to support Kitti’s leadership and the organization’s return to a robust capability to do the good work of welcome and job training among immigrants and refugees in Atlanta.

We hope sharing these details strengthens your trust and belief in Refuge even more, as well. In the coming weeks, we will go deeper into some of the questions that might have arisen in your mind as a result of this email. Until then, we echo Kitti’s plea to infuse Refuge with the necessary $125,000 by the end of November to stay in operation and return to the healthy and sustainable position that allows us to equip and empower our refugee friends and neighbors to thrive.

Thank you for doing this important work with us,

The Board of Refuge Coffee Company

— Randy Walton, Board Chair

— Bob Day

— Aaron Fortner

— Karen Guess

— Kenji Kuramoto

— Jennifer Mbala-Nkanga

— Jared McFadden

— Chad Pearson

— Scotland Wright

P.S. We know that this note likely raises questions about some growth plans that have been in the works for over two years, specifically the plans to roast and to expand to Norcross. We appreciate your questions and hope you appreciate the nuance that each decision has taken as we have sought to deeply restore good working financial systems by both cutting painfully and saving what holds the promise of future mission-driven growth. As we regain sustainability, these two growth initiatives remain in process and in our very hopeful planning and dreaming for what 2023 holds.

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