The San Antonio Mennonite Church is making an effort to support asylum-seekers through their new startup coffee truck, Café Cotidiano.
The San Antonio Mennonite Church is making an effort to support asylum-seekers through their new startup coffee truck, Café Cotidiano. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Surrounded by picnic tables and potted plants and decorated by colorful papel picado, the new coffee trailer set up in the parking lot of the San Antonio Mennonite Church is a place of both fellowship and purpose.

With the church currently holding its services online, the trailer dubbed Café Cotidiano allows members of the community to stop by and enjoy coffee together. More importantly for the church, sales of lattes, hot chocolate, and simple cups of coffee provide financial support for families seeking asylum.

Katie Best-Richmond, pastor of stewardship of the San Antonio Mennonite Church, said the idea for the coffee trailer came from a dream she had as a child to open a bakery run by refugees. When she began her work at the church, she also began to have conversations with other pastors about ways to make the ministry financially sustainable.

“As a part of our lived theology, what if we come up with this coffee trailer idea?” Best-Richmond recalled asking. “It’s a way that we can invite the community as well to participate in this justice work and just get to know one another.”

In 2019 the church received a $3,500 innovation grant from the Leadership Education program at Duke University’s Divinity School, using the funds to purchase the coffee trailer. Volunteers helped with construction and local artist Juliette Roy created the artwork on the trailer.

The proceeds from sales of coffee and other items go directly to supporting families seeking asylum in the United States. The trailer also offers opportunities for refugees to contribute by working there and occasionally offers baked goods prepared by a refugee from Tajikistan. 

“Everyone is able to bring their own culture and experience with coffee and food to this space,” Best-Richmond said. “And that was our hope for [the trailer] was that it would be something they felt like they could have ownership over and influence over in order to share what’s important to them.”

The church partnered with Café Azteca, a local coffee shop, to roast Café Cotidiano’s coffee beans, provide assistance with acquiring the trailer’s coffee machines, and help train people to make coffee drinks. The trailer opened on Sept. 26.

“I think that COVID was actually the perfect time for this because everyone is craving connection and community in some way, and we were able to help cultivate that a bit by creating this outdoor space and by creating a drive-through little coffee trailer,” Best-Richmond said.

Next to the café is a bus painted by local artist Regina Moya that the church plans to turn into a library filled with books on social justice and peacemaking for patrons to enjoy. A separate trailer in the church parking lot was scheduled to open Saturday to sell pupusas, thick, handmade corn tortillas filled with chicharrón, cheese, and refried beans served with curtido, lightly fermented cabbage slaw.

Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador and are also common in Honduras, where many asylum-seekers who enter the U.S. and Mexico border originate.

Similar to the coffee trailer, the pupusa trailer will be staffed by church volunteers and refugees. The proceeds from sales of the pupusas also will go toward the Mennonite Church’s work with refugees.

The creation of Café Cotidiano is part of the Mennonite church’s long-standing mission to assist refugees and people seeking asylum. It also operates a hospitality house called La Casa de Maria y Marta, where Best-Richmond along with another pastor and church volunteers run a trauma healing program in addition to providing shelter for refugees.

Kabibi Bamuamba, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has volunteered at the coffee trailer since it opened in September.

“It’s so good, the church having heart for people coming here because it’s not easy being a refugee,” Bamuamba said. “When you restart your [entire life] and me as a mother, it’s not easy here. So when the church had the idea of doing this, it’s so good.”

Bamuamba and her two children were met at bus station downtown by Best-Richmond and taken to La Casa de Maria y Marta, where they have been living since January.

“I’m a social worker from South Africa,” Bamuamba said. “I was working with people in need from there. Now I understand more about when a person is in need. What the church is doing is really a blessing for us, and I’m sure also for the church.”

The Café Cotidiano located next to the church on South St. Mary’s Street is open Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Samantha Ruvalcaba

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.