- Associated Press - Sunday, June 10, 2018

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) - After nearly 20 years of teaching elementary school, Belleville native Melissa Schwalenberg is taking a long coffee break to give back to local kids and adults in a different way.

The mother of five recently opened Coffee with Christ, a new cafe and meeting place in Belleville. At first glance, the shop looks like a typical coffeehouse, but if you take a closer look, you’ll find Schwalenberg’s ways of giving back sprinkled throughout the cafe.

“I want to make a difference in Belleville,” Schwalenberg said. “This was something that was put on my heart to do.”

Not far from the cash register at Coffee with Christ, there’s a colorful wall of sticky notes where patrons can promote kindness. Each handwritten note offers a free oatmeal, free yogurt, free drink or meal credit to a person in need of a pick-me-up, or someone who might not have enough money to pay their bill.

It’s sort of like paying for the car behind you in the drive-thru or surprising your neighbor with coffee.

The “pay-it-forward wall” is one of the many ways Coffee with Christ wants to bring the community together. There’s also a donation station where customers can drop off items for a local toy drive. This month it’s Heroes That Care. Next month, the cafe will collect donations for a different group.

An after-school program where kids can get help with their homework is forthcoming. Schwalenberg and her family opened the cafe less than a mile from Jefferson School, where she taught fourth grade. Her husband, Geoff, is the principal at Douglas Elementary School in Belleville.

The idea to open a faith-based coffee shop came up five to seven years ago. She kept the idea in mind and finally went for it after her husband encouraged her to open this year.

The name of the coffee shop, Schwalenberg said, was also “placed on her heart” years ago. She attends Cornerstone Christian Church on North Green Mount Road, but she didn’t grow up going to church a lot.

Faith became a big part of her life over the past two decades, and naming the shop Coffee with Christ is more about being bold, open and honest about who she is and what she believes.

Everyone is welcome at the cafe, where customers are greeted with a gift to Schwalenberg from her daughters Jourdan, Ellie, Victoria, Kylee and Halle. The sisters came together to paint an outdoor mural for their mother, who was looking for a way to brighten up the cafe.

“They came up here and surprised me,” Schwalenberg said, smiling. “It’s my Mother’s Day gift from my girls.”

Schwalenberg’s daughters are helping out at the cafe, where the menu includes tea, coffee and breakfast and lunch options. Chicken salad and turkey sandwiches are on the menu, alongside several options for vegans.

Schwalenberg is vegan. That’s why offering options for vegans in metro-east is so important to her.

One of the most-popular items is the Impossible Burger. The plant-based patty contains no animal products, but you wouldn’t know that unless someone told you, Schwalenberg said. Chickpea salad is another popular menu item. It’s served on ciabatta bread.

Customers can eat and drink on the modern white table in the cafe or hang out in the nook near the fireplace. There’s also a stage for live performances near the rear of the space.

“We did want it modern, almost a minimalist look,” Schwalenberg said. “Not too much, but enough.”


Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/2xjYySS


Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com

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