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soccer

Shoes for Kids: From Safety Harbor to Costa Rica

in town square
Costa Rican children receiving new shoes.
Costa Rican children receiving new shoes. (Photo/Café Vino Tinto)

Tucked away on the side of a commercial building and adjacent to a parking lot is a charming little coffee shop that has become a favorite spot for Safety Harbor locals.  Café Vino Tinto recently celebrated their third anniversary and are planning to move to a larger location next spring.

Café Vino Tinto, 737 Main Street, opened in 2016 and has expanded from their original, basic walk-up window. They now have a covered patio, seating among the trees, and an indoor air conditioned dining area. The walk-up window is still where you order lattes or a cuppa Joe, but now waffles and frittatas are available Thursday through Sundays. They have proven to be customer favorites with waffle flavors like Cornbread and Wild Blueberry or Lemon Chiffon Cream. Protein Bars and sweets to go are also on the menu. The fresh roasted coffee is a flavorful medium roast developed over years of trial and error.

The café was an unintended side effect of a business transaction entered into by local resident, former mayor, and real estate lawyer Kent Runnells. Runnells has travelled to Costa Rica for years for fishing and boating trips. In 2008, while hiking with a friend, he happened upon a coffee farm in the Tarrazu Region south of San Jose and was struck by its beautiful setting. They learned the farm was for sale and decided to purchase the 17 acre operation. One of the views from the farm was of a high waterfall that the locals say “flows like red wine.” The name of the café came from the image of that waterfall and the bagged coffee is labelled The Waterfall Coffee.

The existing farmers continue to operate the farm and Runnells spent several years learning about the region, the coffee business, and the art of roasting. For his share of the concern, he took payment in coffee beans and soon had sacks stored all over his house. He perfected his roasting process through trial and error and in 2012 started selling his coffee from local outlets and a stand at Safety Harbor Third Friday events. They could sell 800-1,000 cups in 4 hours. 

In June of 2016 the retail location became available and Runnells and his daughter Logan decided to open a shop. Logan has a background in Food and Beverage, but had no experience with coffee as a business. The trial and errors continued with roasting test and commercial espresso machines. The Runnells have perfected a slow roasting process that results in a complex, medium roast, deep flavored, smooth coffee. They estimate they’ve roasted 25,000 pounds of beans since the business started. Logan learned about the nuances of each roast, blending and testing to identify flavor profiles they’re happy with. Their loyal clientele attest to the success of their efforts. Kent has lived in Safety Harbor for 33 years and has his business on Main Street. They both appreciate the extraordinary support that this town provides to local entrepreneurs.

Kent Runnells visits the farm several times a year and has gotten to know the farmers and the pickers. Many of the laborers picking beans are indigenous peoples, primarily from Panama. Most of them are poor and can’t afford expensive imported items like sneakers. Almost all of the worker’s children had no shoes, so about 5 years ago Kent began to bring children’s shoes with him in his luggage. 

Soccer is the predominant sport in Central America and every town has a soccer field, so he began to hand out shoes at the soccer fields. About a year ago Runnells learned about a children’s mission in the area run by Ryan and Lauri Bickel. Under the Faith Ministries umbrella, the Bickels house neglected children and also run a center that feeds about 75 children daily, so Runnells now funnels the shoes through their program.

The Café welcomes donations of new and gently used children’s shoes.  Sneakers with cleats would be extremely welcome, since soccer is so popular in Costa Rica. Yellow and orange are the most popular colors.  Shoes are very costly there, partly due to a 30% import duty, so they have a disproportionately high status in the culture.

So far, Safety Harbor area residents have provided overwhelming support to the Shoes for Kids effort. One local student led a drive at Safety Harbor Middle School and collected over 100 pairs of shoes. If you would like to donate shoes, you can bring them to the café or drop them off on the patio. only children’s shoes are needed, not socks or clothes.

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