How Gimme! Coffee Gives Back

To enter Gimme! is to arrive in coffee heaven. With neighborhood landmarks on State Street, Cayuga Street, and beyond, Gimme! Coffee cafes are beacons of the artisanal coffee movement where, according to the New York Times, “the drinks reflect an obsession with each detail of the journey from farm to cup and an almost cultish pride in the results.”


Baristas of Gimme! Coffee on State Street

Since opening its Fall Creek coffee bar in 2000, Gimme! has expanded to three other Ithaca locations, to Trumansburg, and to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg district in New York City—and Gimme! runs a brisk wholesale and online retail trade as well. The aficionados are impressed: magazines count Gimme! among the “top 10 U.S. coffee bars” and “top 10 coffee shops in Manhattan.” The Good Food Awards have honored Gimme! three times.

Beyond the aroma of a perfectly balanced expresso, Gimme! also gets credit for being a good neighbor. For years, Gimme! has helped schools, sports teams, and various nonprofits with Gimme! fundraisers that allow organizations to keep 45 percent of their sales of Gimme! coffees. Last year, Gimme! launched a Rally Cause Coffee program, in which it donates a dollar of every bag sold of its Rally coffee to community nonprofit organizations that align with Gimme!’s mission.

Gimme! selected The Sophie Fund to benefit from its Rally donations for the third quarter of 2018—July through September. (The other recipient is the New York City chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.) Selling in-store or online at $16.50 for a 12-ounce bag, Gimme!’s Rally coffee is a mild and smooth Fair Trade Organic blend with toasted almond, dried cherry, and milk chocolate notes.


The Rally campaign has raised more than $3,200 in the past year, with donations going to organizations such as Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, Foodnet Meals on Wheels, Hospicare, The Advocacy Center, and the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.

In choosing The Sophie Fund, Amina Omari, Gimme!’s chief operating officer, noted that several Gimme! managers and staffers attended a Mental Health First Aid training sponsored by The Sophie Fund earlier this year. “Mental health is an issue that touches all of us, and we heartily support The Sophie Fund’s mission to improve and support the mental health of our community,” she said.

Omari said that while philanthropy has always been part of Gimme!’s mission, it is also determined to help strengthen the communities it serves:

“During these challenging times, we wanted to help shine a light on, and bring support to, the wide variety of community organizations who are working to make a positive impact in the world. Sustainability is a core part of our mission, and for us that includes a commitment to sustainable community.  Our cafes have always been a community space, where people of all kinds meet, interact, and engage. We’re part of the community, and the community is important to us!”


—By Sophie Jones

Sophie Jones, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Cornell University majoring in psychology and minoring in visual studies. She skates on the Synchronized Skating Team and volunteers with the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

“Holding”: A Short Film Finding Light in the Darkest Places

A long story made short about our funny short film…

We met in film class at Cornell University about eight years ago. Despite very different film tastes—Jon had a goofier Buster Keaton thing going on and Jesse had a darker, dramatic streak with poorly edited attempts at Gaspar Noe—we soon became fast friends. Little did we know, we also both experienced depression and even suicidal thoughts throughout our time at Cornell, as well as after graduation when we both moved to Los Angeles.

Jon wrote a screenplay, as those struggling to make a film career do, about a day when he needed to call a suicide hotline. As Jon describes that experience:

“In the summer of 2015, I called a suicide hotline for the first time. When the volunteer picked up, she asked how I was doing. I said I was pretty sad and needed someone to talk to. She replied, somewhat exasperated, ‘Well, we’re kind of busy right now. Can you keep it to five minutes?’ It was the CRAZIEST thing I ever heard. Have you ever called a suicide hotline because you felt worthless, and they confirm you’re not even worth their time? It was the hardest I’ve ever laughed, and unexpectedly, it was exactly what I needed to get out of a dark place.”

Jon shared this story with Jesse as well as the screenplay he wrote inspired by the experience, and Holding was born: in the fictional version, a suicide hotline puts both Nick and Cassy on hold, yet they find unconventional ways to get out of their own heads.

In creating this film, it helped that both of us have a long history of being parts of each other’s support systems, to a probably ridiculous degree. We see the same therapist, saw the same psychiatrist, and are even on the same meds (break the stigma!). Oftentimes when one of us is in a particularly rough place, we’ll make a quick phone call or visit one another’s apartment to just make fun of the whole situation. Say what you will about idioms, but laughter sometimes really is the best medicine. That’s what Holding is all about—unconventional solutions to unconventionally painful moments.

Together, we developed it into a produced short that we shot, edited, and submitted to festivals around the country with the help of many Ithaca-to-LA transplants, including Cornell alums Derek Kigongo (’08), Amanda Idoko (’10), Elizabeth Jaeleigh Davis (’12), Mariela Ferrer (’12), and Olivia Krebs (’15), and Ithaca College alum Josh Toomey (’15).

Making this film was both an exciting first filmmaking experience at a festival level and a cathartic experience for all of those involved. Many of the cast and crew also have their own personal relationships with anxiety, depression, and suicide, which helped bring the heart of the film to life.

Given the strong Ithaca influence behind this project, it only made sense to reach out to collaborate with Ithaca and Cornell-based organizations on the film. We hope to use the film as a spark for frank discussion about the realities of these dark, lonely moments that are more multi-dimensional than the melodrama often portrayed in the media. The Sophie Fund, along with other Cornell-based organizations, is helping make that possible.

We are excited to share the story of depression as we and many others have experienced it. These experiences are parts of almost 16.2 million lives in the United States alone. Simply put, they’re a major part of real life. Real life is not black and white. Real life can be messy, funny, tough, and hopeful, all at once. Sometimes it makes no sense at all.

—Jesse D. Turk and Jon Zucker

Jesse D. Turk is an LA-based director and producer for theater, film, and TV with multiple upcoming projects including a play with music about Richard Nixon as well as a new short film about intimacy issues in the gay community to be completed this year. On Instagram: @jdturk

Jon Zucker is a writer, director, and comedian who regularly performs all over Los Angeles and is currently developing a television series based on his dad’s over-40 softball league. On Instagram: @jon.zucker

Holding premiers at the Indie Street Film Festival in Red Bank, NJ at 12 noon on July 28 at Bow Tie Cinemas (36 White Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701 Tel 732 747 0333)

Follow Holding on Instagram @holding_short and on Facebook at


“Be the Change You Want to See”

When the story of American authorities separating children from their parents at the U.S.–Mexico border hit the headlines in mid-June, we knew we had to act. Six of us—Cornell University students staying in Ithaca during the summer break—met up and brainstormed what we could do.


We were deeply concerned about the consequences of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy targeting asylum seekers and other migrants.  The Department of Homeland Security reported that 2,342 children had been separated from adults between May 5 to June 9. Many psychologists and health professionals condemned the separation and detention of children as a traumatic, emotionally damaging experience that could cause them “irreparable harm.” We were mindful, too, that nearly 100 South Asian asylum seekers were being detained in Oregon.

Motivated by what we saw as a gross abuse of political power, and inspired by the mass action taking place across the country, we decided to support fundraising for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. RAICES is one of the largest immigrant rights nonprofits in Texas that has been supporting immigrants and their families in securing legal representation, translation services, and other services. Almost overnight, a Facebook campaign had raised more than $20 million for the organization.

I remember wanting to donate but feeling helpless because I could not afford more than $5.00 from my own pocket. From the ubiquity of Facebook posts and conversations that were happening around the issue, I realized that many felt the same way. Unaware of any other effort to mobilize contributions from the Cornell community, six of us—Tarannum Sarwat Sahar ’20, Rose Ippolito ’20, Lizzie Lee ’19, Jaylexia Clark ’19, Anuush Vejalla ’20, and myself—got to work with three ideas in mind.

First, we wanted to multiply the amount of money we could have donated on our own. We also wanted to engage people on the family separation issue face to face. Lastly, we wanted to restore our own faith that positive and swift action could be taken by college students against injustices, even during a time of year when we are “on break.”

We figured we wouldn’t raise a huge amount—we would be content with even $200. On June 26, we began a week of tabling at the bus stop in front of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. We had to cancel two of the days due to the weather, but were overjoyed to have raised almost $560 by the weekend. We were excited by the prospect of reaching $750—half of the $1,500 minimum needed to pay the bond for a detained migrant at the border.

Suddenly, we experienced a dispiriting misfortune—during our Saturday shift, an individual stole the entire contents of the cash box, taking off with most of the donations we had received at that point.

The blow was difficult to bear in the moment. June 30 happened to be the date when thousands of people in Ithaca and across the United States were marching and protesting the Zero Tolerance policy and family separation. So we took to our online networks and began to spread the tale of our predicament to our friends in every corner of the country, and even to the friends who were abroad for the summer. Within 20 minutes, I saw my personal Venmo account jump by nearly $100.

Our donations surged past $500 just a few hours later. It was utterly surreal. Over the next 24 hours, money continued to arrive, in $20, $10, and $5 increments—and even one 87-cent donation. By Sunday afternoon, we crossed the $1,000 mark with more donations pouring in.

For us, this became a story of a community coming together—people rallying around the immigration issue, and also friends responding to our SOS. It was incredible to see our friends (and also people we didn’t know!) contributing their support so quickly and generously.

We are extraordinarily grateful for the kindness and goodness of those around us. We know that in the end, this goodness will always drown out the negative actions of others. We are extremely thankful for every single donor, every single volunteer, and every single person who has taken interest in our fundraising effort.

Throughout the week, we talked to more than 200 people passing by our table. They gave us spare change, any dollars they could spare, and more importantly, took out time in their day to support a simple idea: #KeepFamiliesTogether. We want this to serve as a reminder that there is always a way to be the change you want to see in the world—no matter what time of year, no matter with what resources, and even when upsetting things happen.

Our fundraiser is closed–our final total was $1,120–but we ask that any and all further donations be sent directly to RAICES via its website here (scroll down to the donate box).

—By Winnie Ho

Winnie Ho is a senior in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences studying neurobiology and sociology

The Joys of Mental Health First Aid

Don’t you love the smiles on these faces? The Sophie Fund does.

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The Class of April 16, 2018

This is a group of owners, managers, and workers from Ithaca’s restaurants, bars, and cafes taking a one-day course in Mental Health First Aid on April 16. They’re smiling because they had great fun, learned valuable skills, and became more confident in their abilities to support a family member, friend, colleague, or stranger experiencing a mental health crisis. Oh, and they also received official certification as Mental Health First Aiders.

The training was conducted by Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. It was sponsored by a grant from The Sophie Fund to offer free training for the dedicated men and women of Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene—where thin margins, long hours, erratic schedules, and high pressures can be the routine. The 15 trainees in the session are employed by Gimme! Coffee, Argos Inn, The Watershed, Temple of Zeus, Manndible Cafe, and other enterprises.

“With the stigma around mental illness, and given the hectic lives we lead today, it’s easy for somebody not to immediately seek the mental health support they need, or for people around them not to recognize signs that a crisis is brewing,” said Scott MacLeod, a founder of The Sophie Fund. “We aim to see Mental Health First Aid become the norm across the public and private sectors in Tompkins County. We would like to see every government agency, educational institution, and major business providing training opportunities—and in some cases, mandated training—for their managers and staff.”


In training at the Tompkins County Public Library

Developed in Australia in 2000, the National Council for Behavioral Health brought Mental Health First Aid to the United States in 2008. Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid is not about diagnosing or treating ailments, but rather giving immediate initial assistance until professional mental health support can be provided.

In the one-day Mental Health First Aid course, trainees learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental disorders and substance use concerns, strategies for assisting people in crisis and non-crisis situations, and how to get professional help.


Practicing Mental Health First Aid skills

In the United States, the “movement” boasts a million Mental Health First Aiders—and millions more are needed. The country is going through an epidemic of mental health disorders. The national suicide rate increased 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses; 2.1 million Americans had an opioid use disorder. An estimated 43.6 million American adults are living with a psychiatric illness and another 16.3 million have an alcohol use disorder.

The 2016 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health said collected data from 139 college counseling centers showed that 33.2 percent of 150,483 college students seeking counseling in the 2015-16 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” That was a marked increase from 23.8 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. About 1,100 college students annually take their own lives.

“As someone who has battled both depression and anxiety personally, and has family members who battle alcoholism, this is a very important topic to me,” said Emily Guenther, one of the April 16 trainees. “It was nice to come to a class where I felt like people understood the difficulties and hardships that are faced daily when dealing with mental health issues. It was wonderful for me to finally get some tools that will be very useful for me moving forward!”

The sentiment was shared by many other trainees.

“The hospitality world often fosters an especially high-stress work environment and, as someone in a managerial position, I am very invested in the mental well-being of my crew, both day-to-day and long-term,” said Rob Hummel, the front desk manager of Argos Inn. “Certainly being concerned for others isn’t enough to be helpful, and the very specific identification and communication techniques presented at training gave me a proper, practical means of applying that concern when it’s needed. The attitude of care and compassion that Melanie and David encouraged as an integral part of mental health first aid is invaluable, both at work and in one’s own life.”

The Mental Health Association employs three certified trainers, and offers regular sessions open to the public and organizes private in-house trainings for companies and organizations.

“At the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, we are passionate about Mental Health First Aid as part of the delivery of our agency’s mission to create a citizen’s movement in support of our community’s mental health,” said trainer Melanie Little. “The further this information spreads, the more our area will be filled with individuals who are ready to provide support, compassion, understanding, and resources to our fellow community members who are struggling.”

Little explained that the training teaches compassion, listening skills, the types of mental health help that are available, and combats the stigma surrounding mental health that prevents so many individuals from accessing the help they need and deserve. In an eight-hour course, she said, the training includes discussions about complex and difficult topics, and gives participants ample time to practice their skills by applying them to a wide range of scenarios.



Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Mental Health First Aid not only serves humanity, it serves the bottom line, too. According to Mental Health First Aid USA, 40 percent of employees with a mental illness take up to 10 days off work a year because of it. Yet 35 percent of managers feel they have no formal support or resources to help their employees.

And, it’s kind of cool, or at least Lady Gaga thinks so: her Born This Way Foundation has helped train 150,000 people in Mental Health First Aid.

For more information or to schedule a training in Tompkins County, contact:

Melanie Little, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

For information about applying for a Mental Health First Aid training grant from The Sophie Fund, contact:

The Sophie Fund

To support The Sophie Fund’s grants for Mental Health First Aid training, click here to go to the Donate page.


Photos courtesy Yuko Jingu

“Keying into Emotions”

“I can share it with my family.” — Amelia Erikson on how baking cupcakes brings her happiness and helps her open up about her mental illness.

Michayla Savitt hangs out with Amelia Erikson, a 2016 psychology and neuroscience graduate of Ithaca College with bipolar II disorder, in Episode 8 of The Scoop on Mental Health. In “Keying into Emotions,” Amelia shares stories about the evolution of her mental illness starting in childhood, and how she devised personal ways of coping without medication—including the happiness she feels when baking cupcakes. “The other great thing about that is I can share it with my family,” she explains. “If I’m in a little bit of a happier mood while baking, it’s a really good time to be talking to them and sort of explaining how I have been feeling.”

8pod“Keying into Emotions” [Episode 8] Listen

Amelia Erikson shares stories of her bipolar II disorder and how she copes with the symptoms without the aid of medications.