There’s a coffee shop in Elmhurst, Illinois that is tucked away inside Chicago’s train station. It looks to be a pretty small place but it is owned by a great person with big dreams and aspirations. For seven consecutive years, Pilot Petes Coffee & Treats, owned by Peter Thomas (aka Pilot Pete), has been the face and driving force behind “Coffee With a Purpose”, an annual community initiative that collects and distributes coats and other related necessities.
This initiative was designed to help the local homeless survive and brave the harshest of winters. Peter came up with the idea of starting this initiative as a means of giving back to the community while also giving other volunteers a sense of purpose.
Peter was pretty surprised to learn at how well-received his initiative has received and has gotten plenty of responses from people also wanting to help out. Initially unprepared, Peter got his act together during the drive’s first year, in the weeks before Christmas.
For the first year alone, he and his volunteers collected and gave out about 3000 coats.
This year is the seventh year of operating the annual coat drive. Peter and the volunteer team had their Coffee With a Purpose command center at the back of a 26-foot moving truck, where it made a total of six stops through the greater Chicago area.
At each stop, Peter invited people to come up to the truck to “shop” for whatever they needed for free. In addition to the coats, there were many socks, gloves, hats, scarves, personal hygienic products, and blankets to choose from. Each product was carefully catalogued, collected, sorted, stored, and hung up by the volunteer team. Pilot Pete’s also brewed 40 gallons of hot java coffee and some baked goods just for the occasion. The hot java required some secondary support from three distinct Elmhurst businesses that were more than happy to help.
The baked goods came from Rough Edges Confectionary, while custom truck signage was from the beautiful handiwork of Angel Fancy Design Studio, while the truck and driver were provided by Good Move Movers. There were more people than usual who needed help compared to previous years. When Peter and his crew made their pit-shops, all other shelters had been on lockdown.
Since no one was allowed in or out, there were more homeless people out and about. Peter figured that this year required a little extra help from others. Plus, beyond handing out warm clothes and food, valuable connections are made.
Whenever you meet someone to help them out, they usually never forget the help that you provided. In a time where it is hard to make friends, acts of goodwill ensure that we are able to make the most of out a bad situation.
In a society that often forgets about the homeless, it’s valuable to keep their thoughts in mind. They are human too, just like anyone else. We just never know the kinds of things specific people are going through. Also, making a small difference can lead to a series of wonderful domino effects.
According to Peter’s mom, Joni, Peter had always been someone to help those in need, especially as a little kid, in an effort to make others feel welcome. As for Peter, coffee has been a pretty good way for him to help others. He uses his business as a platform to showcase his creativity. Plus, if you think about it, coffee is a great metaphor for kindness.
For example, as Peter once noted, coffee fuels and ignites people to do things that they previously would not have done, such as helping those in need. Driven by this process, people end up feeling good about themselves and end up making some valuable alliances and friendships along the way.
As for the future of Pilot Pete’s, a new Elmhurst Metra station is in the works, so we can only hope that his business will remain strong. In the meantime, he has an entire community supporting him for the many things he has done.
For example, Pilot Pete’s has previously provided:
- School fundraisers
- Motivational quotes (on the actual coffee cups)
- Homeless drives
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As for now, the community has a petition in the works to ensure that Pilot Pete’s is able to stay. For now, and until the future, here’s to hoping that the community can help Peter, just as Peter once helped them. As for the homeless, we can only hope that more people will help them as well.