“I feel safe and welcome here.”

Mitch is one of Lifewise Merge Cafe's newest volunteers. Here he shares why Merge Café is his favourite.

Mitch is one of our newest volunteers; here he shares why Merge Café is his favourite.

It’s 8:00 a.m. when we meet Mitch and at this time of the morning, Auckland’s Karangahape Road is a busy place. People are rushing to get to work, no time to waste, grabbing a quick breakfast or a takeaway coffee at Merge Cafe.

It’s also the time when rough sleepers who have been displaced by morning wardens from their spot on the streets are looking for a safe place to be warmed up. Mitch is busy keeping the free tea and coffee urns topped up, helping ‘chef’ prepare ingredients for breakfast and lunch, and tidying up the cafe tables, all while cracking silly “dad jokes” and sharing warm camaraderie with the staff.

Unlike some of Merge Cafe’s patrons, who may be rough sleeping or unable to afford healthy meals, Mitch is not currently homeless, nor is he struggling to make ends meet. Why then does he come to Merge Cafe?

“I really like the atmosphere here,” says 62-year-old Mitch, as we sit down with him during his break. “The backyard is appealing, I appreciate the free tea and coffee, and volunteering here gives me something to do.” At his age, Mitch is experiencing health complications that leave him feeling too tired too quickly. Unable to find suitable, flexible employment, he prefers to spend his time supporting his neighbourhood cafe.

“I have a house from Housing New Zealand, and support from WINZ, so I want to help others and learn more about myself,” says Mitch, who used to be a Buddhist monk. Volunteering for four days a week helps Mitch feel connected with the community. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I find it hard to make friends with my neighbours. But here I have Manuel, and Chef, and ‘babuji’ [cafe manager, Manu] who are the best friends I could have.”

Having no stable family to call his own – his father died when he was 9 and mum had multiple sclerosis – Mitch has faced some tough times, including a business deal which went sour. He found himself penniless at one point, rough sleeping outside a cathedral in Auckland and searching for his next meal.

During that time, he made friends and acquaintances with other “streeties” many of whom he sees at Merge Café. He notices how their behaviour changes here. “There is no screaming, no swearing, they are well-behaved because they respect this space,” says Mitch.“ And that makes me feel safe and welcome here, too.”

Mitch grew up in New Zealand but he has imbibed spirituality and street smarts from places as diverse as Poland (his home), Germany, India, Thailand, and USA. “New Zealand has been very kind to me, so I want to give back I have seen so much poverty and homelessness in other countries. We must not let that happen here.”

Mitch fondly recalls the time he received a free meal at Merge Cafe. “I assured Manu that I will pay him back, but he just said ‘don’t worry, eat up’,” says Mitch, remembering the time when he had a free meal. “I did pay him back, eventually, and I’m grateful for this kindness.”

Kindness creates kindness, says Mitch, and if you believe that’s true too, please pop in for breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Merge Cafe is open weekdays, 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Your support can help others also find a safe and welcoming space in a bustling city centre.

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