Today, coffee shops are ubiquitous and tend to satisfy the palette of the most discerning coffee connoisseur , but there was a time when the “coffee stand” served the nobler purpose of helping those in need.
After the 1830s, New Yorkers confronted poverty through the establishment of soup kitchens and one-cent coffee stands that gave food and coffee to the destitute. Jacob Riis’ famous book, How the Other Half Lives (1890), documented the condition of the poor in New York, and served as a rallying cry for urban reform. But even before its publication, New Yorkers addressed the issue of hunger.
In March 1887, the New York Times reported that city Aldermen had overridden the mayor’s veto, and granted Mrs. Joaquin M. Lamadrid the authority to establish booths to provide “cheap meals” to the poor. Located at the corner of Duane Street and Park Row (scroll down to Cardinal Hayes Place), Lamadrid established New York’s first one-cent coffee stand.
In March 1896, the New York and Brooklyn St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stand Association made a public appeal for funds and requested that those giving send “subscriptions” to “Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Bank” on 63 Broadway. This tradition continues today, with team members and financial support to organizations such as Yorkville Common Food Pantry and God’s Love We Deliver .
By December 1908, other charities such as the Greater New York Philanthropic Society circulated notices in the Times seeking funds for the one-cent coffee stands. The Society noted that the one-cent coffee stand at Pier 5 fed 150 people per day, and declared that “no destitute person is turned away without relief.”
The association had become popular enough that it held annual benefits at Carnegie Hall. By 1908 the coffee stands fed an average of 1,500 people a day — sometimes 3,000 people in times of “business depression….”
On November 28, 1913, the Times carried an article entitled “No Hungry Ones on Thanksgiving Day.” The article mentioned the One Cent Coffee Stand efforts to help New York’s needy:
One of the largest food lines was that which gathered in front of St. Andrews’ One Cent Coffee Stand headquarters at 31 West Eighth Street , in which men, women and children stood waiting for their holiday dinners or for baskets of food…In the long, narrow dining hall more than 1,000 men and women were fed during the afternoon…
Just one year later, the One Cent Coffee Association served over 2,000 dinners and distributed 600 baskets of food and remarked that “Many of those in the line yesterday were well-dressed men out of employment who had never eaten a Thanksgiving dinner under the same circumstances before.”
In 1930, St. Andrew’s One-Cent Coffee Stands Society, Inc. closed its doors, after having provided meals to the homeless for more than 43 years. The New York Times quoted Mrs. Lamadrid as saying: “If I can always be assured that the poor go away satisfied, then I am satisfied, and there is contentment all around.”
Wells Fargo has continued its commitment to the communities of New York by distributing several hundred cases of food and clothing to destitute families from the headquarters of Volunteers of America.
Indeed, Wells Fargo’s involvement in communities resonates today as it is consistently ranked one of the top givers in corporate philanthropy, echoing Henry Wells’ sentiment:
May we all remember that our lives are not measured by the number of years and days we exist, but by what we accomplish while we do live, and the good we may render to our fellow man.