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East County Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 1 month ago

Coffee with a Cause

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Kitty Koffee pairs cute cats and delicious coffee for a buzz-worthy fundraiser benefiting the new Shelter Manatee.
by: Guest Writer

What if your morning cup came with support for building a new animal shelter? That’s the basic idea behind Kitty Koffee, a specialty brand created by Bradenton’s Banyan Coffee Co. in partnership with Shelter Manatee. Proceeds from every sale of Banyan’s Kitty-branded bag of brew support the construction of a brand-new Manatee County animal shelter.

“A year ago we had beer can dogs,” says Pam Freni, the chair of Shelter Manatee and president of its parent organization, Animal Network Inc. She’s talking about the partnership between Motorworks Brewing and county animal services that put pictures and descriptions of adoptable dogs on cans of Motorworks beer. “We wanted to take a product that was popular, to make sure it got out into the community. And it paid off because the cans went viral internationally.”

After the success of the Motorworks campaign, Freni, the driving force behind the shelter fundraising campaign, was in need of a follow-up. “Being the cat-lover that I am, my friends were like, ‘What are we going to do for the cats?’” she says. “No one felt beer was a good fit.”

Instead, Freni partnered with Banyan Coffee co-owners Abbey and Josh Schmitt on Kitty Koffee — high-quality, locally produced coffee with adorable, adoptable cats on the package. Cat owners themselves, the Schmitts were immediately receptive to the idea. “They help me support it and do an enormous amount of work,” Freni says.

“Pam approached us about doing something with coffee,” says Josh Schmitt, who does most of the coffee roasting. “Our cat was adopted from a rescue, and that was a connection that we shared. There’s so many other animals that need a home.”

The Schmitts had been looking for ways to give back to the community without locking their entire product line into a single charity. Josh Schmitt points to other coffee brands that donate proceeds from every bag to one specific charity. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but the Schmitts were more interested in doing multiple product lines that support different charities.

“Pam came in, did some sample runs and tasting, and she came out to the Bradenton farmers market and did some sampling,” Josh says. “She picked which ones she liked, which were our most popular coffees anyway.”

The sale of each bag of Kitty Koffee directly contributes to the building of the new shelter. You can find the coffee online at BanyanCoffeeCompany.com (it delivers locally), or in person at REinspired Boutique in Bradenton and Ginny’s and Jane E’s Café on Anna Maria. There are also plans to bring Kitty Koffee to The Market at Lakewood Ranch beginning the last weekend of February.

The tireless Freni still has plenty of hard work in front of her. In 2019, Manatee County commissioners approved $8 million in taxpayer funds to pay for the development of a new shelter building. The current facility was built in Palmetto in the 1940s and then rebuilt in the mid-1980s. Because of its age, it made more sense to build a new building, which is planned to be located on State Route 64. The goal is to open the new facility by 2023.

As part of the deal for public funding, Shelter Manatee agreed to raise an additional $2 million toward the completion of the project. The campaign has thus far collected about $350,000 in donations and pledges, with Freni pointing to a number of major donations that have yet to be announced publicly.

“We’re very excited because we’ve had a couple of transformational donations,” Freni says. “These leaders stepped in and said they were going to lead in donations, which basically said: ‘The water’s fine. Come in.’” She also says that, in addition to the deep-pocketed contributors, the campaign is seeing plenty of grassroots support in the form of smaller donations.

With the first $4 million of taxpayer funds unlocking in October, time is of the essence for Freni and Shelter Manatee. “We can make [the $350,000] immediately available. We’re working with the county on design money. Do they need design money? They have $100,000, and I have $350,000 pledged and can help with that. We are fully open and available for what they need in terms of timing for the money.”

Freni almost gets wistful when discussing the new facility, which has been years in the making. “It’s a dream we haven’t been able to bring to life until the last few years,” she says. “You will find great animals here. It’s going to be a win-win for everyone.”

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