Tom West and Shannon Francis have big hearts, big plans — and a growing Angel Tree.
In 2018, the couple decided to launch a local coffee shop and make a positive impact on the community. Hoping to merge commerce and outreach, they opened Long Beach Coffee and Tea at Fifth Street and Pine Avenue.
“We believe a cup of coffee is a non-intrusive way to reach somebody in need,” Francis said. “Often, it takes up to 15 times talking to someone before you get any information at all. With a cup of coffee, conversation, we’ve learned many, many stories and how we can help each individual. We’ve never met anyone whose name is ‘homeless’.”
Long Beach Coffee and Tea has a plethora of five-star Yelp reviews lauding its specialty lattes, biscuits and gravy, and pickle sandwiches. But reviewers’ praises are not limited to the menu; most comments also mention the kindness of the owners.
From the beginning, West and Francis have worked to welcome visitors of any economic status. The two encourage their patrons to leave donations for those in need. Francis said their location “has become a go-to for hundreds to come get food, clothing, hygiene items, blankets, use a laptop or phone, and most of all, encouragement and free hugs!”
Long Beach local and veteran Arthur Lara, activities coordinator for U.S.VETS in Long Beach, noticed the giving spirit at the coffee shop. He approached West, a former Marine, with a plan to support homeless vets through a bi-monthly “Veterans Café.”
“I would bring homeless veterans every other Friday,” Lara said, “and Tom and Shannon would provide them a place to unwind, socialize, and get resources like jobs, benefits, and veteran resources from guest visitors that Tom would invite. The veterans were treated to coffee and pastries and a safe place.”
These gatherings are now on hold, due to COVID, but the veterans can still look forward to holiday support from the coffee shop’s third annual Christmas “Angel Tree.” Each year, West and Francis cover a tree with ornaments containing the names of local veterans and their Christmas wishes. Any customer who wants to help can take an ornament and return with a wrapped gift. In 2018, 100 veterans received presents. Last year, 140 gifts were delivered. This year, the couple will hang 150 ornaments on their Angel Tree.
“This time of year is difficult for a homeless veteran,” Lara said. “A gift on Christmas, means so much to them. They feel that someone cares about them, they feel a little sense of home, a sense of the spirit of the holidays.”
According to West and Francis, the tree represents the Long Beach community coming together to tell struggling veterans that they are not forgotten. The couple especially loves the letters and notes donors leave with the packages.
“We like to refer to it as our present to each other as it brings us both so much joy,” West said.
Touched by the struggles they have seen, West and Francis started a nonprofit to support veterans when they move from military to civilian life. “Operation: Transition Outside the Wire” will take a proactive approach, providing housing and employment to help new civilians establish positive and productive life patterns. To learn more about West's and Francis’s current outreach efforts and future plans, go to https://operationtotw.org/coffee-shop.