On the first Friday of the month, from October through June, the capacity for a standing-room-only crowd is the typical standard at the Grounds for Good Coffeehouse in Moorestown. There, an average of 80 to 100 people gather to listen to live music, enjoy a fresh cup of brewed coffee, and chat with new friends. What began nine years ago as a small, humble congregation of approximately 25 people has grown tremendously almost a decade later; occasionally swelling to more than 200.
The coffeehouse, a component of the outreach ministry at First UMC of Moorestown, officially entered its ninth season this past October and for Jay and Kathy Appleton, church members and two of the coffeehouse’s earliest supporters, the success of Grounds for Good Coffeehouse is sweet music to their own ears.
“Kathy and I were part of a group that saw a need to more effectively reach into the community; to provide meaningful support to worthy non-profit organizations and to create a performance and exhibition venue for the great musicians and artists in our region,” he said. “Our beginnings were rather humble – we set up tables in the fellowship hall of the church, brewed some coffee, and invited a few different local musicians, including young people from our church to play. We selected a local organization to support, Moorestown Ecumenical Neighborhood Development, an affordable housing developer, and welcomed about 25 people to the opening night. I think we raised about $100.00.”
But over the course of several years, Appleton said that “it has grown to the point where we typically have about 80 to 100 people in attendance, not counting musicians, artists, and staff. Our February coffeehouse brought about 150, and we have had over 200 at times.”
Appleton, who participates in the leadership of the church’s music program and serves as host of the coffeehouse, called the “free-standing” coffeehouse a “casual gathering of friends in an informal setting that offers live music, art exhibits, and of course – coffee and snacks.” Each coffeehouse session is a fundraising effort for a particular mission or charitable organization. Past beneficiaries include the Moorestown Ecumenical Neighborhood Development (MEND), The Saints Prison Ministry, and the Angel Tree Christmas.
“Our initial mission when starting the coffeehouse was to provide an environment that facilitated relaxed interaction among those in attendance as an opportunity to relax at the end of the week and a way to provide some financial support for local charitable organizations,” he said. “As we have grown, identifying and supporting ’embedded’ and effective community missions is our primary focus. We are very intentional about identifying groups that are sustainable in their ‘business model’ and that serve critical needs of their target population.”
Appleton continued, “This includes basic necessities like food, shelter, children and adults with special needs, public health and education. Our community includes Moorestown but extends to nearby urban areas such as Camden and as far as Ghana, Haiti, and Guatemala. Support is provided strictly by the donations offered by our patrons – they get it, and they are generous. The mission of Grounds for Good is to support ‘grassroots’ non-profit organizations that are serving the needs of challenged members of the community. The organizations that receive support include those providing food, water and sanitation, education and other necessities of life.”
Music ranges from acoustic singer-songwriter performances to full-out bands playing a range of music from contemporary Christian to jazz, folk and light rock. Each month includes an exhibition of the work of local artisans such as potters, weavers, quilters, and glass artists. Their work is typically available for sale to coffeehouse patrons. Coffee and tea are available free of charge and other beverages, as well as freshly-baked cakes, pies, and pastries, donated by various church ministry groups, can be purchased throughout the evening.
“Speaking as one who really enjoys his coffee, I can honestly say that our freshly brewed coffee is pretty good! When we started the coffeehouse, we charged an admission fee of $5.00. After a couple of years, we sensed that might be a barrier to entry for some, so we eliminated the admission fee, and we now generate revenue for the organizations we support completely from free will donations from patrons,” Appleton said.
He added, “The folks who attend have been tremendously generous, and more than $30,000 in financial support has been raised for beneficiaries since the inception of the mission. Folks tell us they enjoy the coffeehouse because it’s an opportunity to relax with old friends, make new ones and enjoy great music and art. Those who attend are also quite interested in the organizations we support and sometimes extend their support to personal involvement on an ongoing basis.”
The coffeehouse is operated completely by a dedicated group of volunteers who faithfully work the kitchen, handle sound and lighting, set up and break down tables and chairs and coordinate marketing communications. As attendance for Grounds for Good Coffeehouse continues to grow, Appleton said his future hope for this important ministry is “to welcome more guests and especially to provide more support to more organizations.”
The coffeehouse meets in Fellowship Hall at First UMC of Moorestown, 446 Camden Avenue in Moorestown, N.J. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music begins at 8 p.m. Contact church@meetwithGod.com for more information or to learn more about participating as a musician or visual artist.