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Talitha Coffee Brews Hope for Survivors of Sex Trafficking

The East Village shop provides training, jobs, and support networks to empower survivors as they build their futures
Courtesy of Talitha Coffee

Ethiopians first discovered the pick-me-up appeal of coffee sometime around 800 AD, and now 2.25 billion cups of bean juice are consumed around the globe every day. Hard to improve on the emotional well-being a couple billion people already feel.

Enter Talitha Coffee Roasters in East Village. Talitha is the manifestation of founder Jenny Barber’s lifelong mission to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by sex trafficking. Each cup and bean contributes to the cause.

Talitha Coffee Roasters founders Jenny and Robert Barber
Courtesy of Talitha Coffee
Jenny and Robert Barber.

A survivor of childhood exploitation herself, the mother of six understands firsthand how sparking hope is a crucial stepping stone to bringing survivors out of dark spaces. She and her husband, Robert, first began with advocacy and outreach programs in red-light districts around the country. But after discovering Robert’s innate talent for roasting coffee using only a popcorn popper on their stovetop, the pair decided to sell their beans to fund their efforts.

They acquired long-standing local roaster Cafe Virtuoso and rebranded to align with their cause. Then Jenny realized she could go a step further by providing employment opportunities. “So many [survivors] would end up back on the streets because they were facing barriers of reentry, such as education, vocational training, and, sometimes, criminal records,” she says. “It felt like the odds were stacked against them.”

Talitha Coffee's roasted coffee beans in colorful bags
Courtesy of Talitha Coffee
Talitha offers more than 10 blends and types of single-origin beans, all ethically sourced.

So the Barbers set out to offer survivors jobs through the Talitha Survivor Care Network, which provides support and resources to help survivors restabilize their lives. In 2021, forced commercial sexual exploitation affected an estimated 6.3 million people worldwide, according to studies cited by the US State Department.

The name Talitha stems from the Aramaic talitha koum, meaning, “Maiden, arise.” This phrase is a reference to the story of a girl moving from death back to life. Jenny feels it symbolizes the experience of many trafficking survivors.

“Our ultimate heroes are the survivors. They take that big step and reclaim the power to write their story, so we’re celebrating that,” Jenny says. “The dream is way beyond just working for Talitha.” Since its founding, the company has employed four survivors and is partnering with other recovery organizations to continue to grow this number.

Talitha recently launched their e-commerce site, where they sell direct to consumers by the bag or by subscription, as well as wholesale to larger companies. The company is gearing up to go nationwide within the next year.

“Growth is not just about numbers, but realizing that, as we grow, we’re able to bring a greater impact,” Jenny says.

By Lili Kim

Lili Kim is an editorial intern at San Diego Magazine. She plans to graduate from the University of San Diego in 2024 with a degree in Communication and serves as the Assistant News Editor at the USD Vista. A few of her goals in life include becoming a full time writer, building her travel photography portfolio, and finding the best taco in SD.

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