When the baseball season was temporarily halted in May because of the pandemic, Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ stayed in Arizona and began to contemplate how he could help.
Naturally, his thoughts drifted toward coffee.
A budding coffee connoisseur, Happ found inspiration when he came across an Instagram post featuring Bourbonnais-based Connect Roasters, a mission-focused coffee roasting company. He connected with owner Caleb Benoit and, together, they hatched a plan for Quarantine Coffee, a medium-roast Guatemalan coffee that benefits two charities – the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Save the Children.
“The Food Depository stood out to us,” said Happ, 26. “We thought in this time with people being out of work, with people not being able to find their next meal, especially with children who weren’t in school and who were dependent on those school meals, that’s how we identified the food bank and how we could really help.”
Fast-forward to today and the Cubs are back in the playoffs, thanks in large part to Happ’s breakout season, and Quarantine Coffee has raised enough money to provide nearly 8,300 meals to people in need in Cook County. Add that to an impressive stat line in a truncated baseball season for Happ, who is growing as a positive force on and off the field.
Happ and Benoit are planning to continue the fundraising partnership through and beyond the ongoing pandemic.
“It was a bit surprising, if I’m honest,” said Benoit, 37, a lifelong baseball fan. “It was exciting. He loved the coffee, which was important. And I wasn’t talking to a rep or an agent or anything. I’ve worked directly with him.”
Happ credits his parents for instilling in him the importance of giving back. He grew up in Pittsburgh, where his mother, Mary Beth Happ, taught at the University of Pittsburgh’s nursing school. She’s now the associate dean of research at the Ohio State University’s College of Nursing.
His father, Keith Happ, was an agronomist for the United States Golf Association. A guiding force in Ian’s life, he died in 2016 from brain cancer at age 58.
“I had, in my mind, the two most wonderful parents in the world,” Happ said. “They always taught my brother and I to care about others, to think about others first, to put other people above ourselves, especially in the circumstances where I’m lucky to be playing baseball for the Chicago Cubs.”
Chris Happ, Ian’s older brother who also serves on the Food Depository’s board of directors, taught him all about appreciating high quality coffee after Ian moved in with him back in 2015.
“The idea of being involved with a coffee roaster and helping with the process, helping with the marketing and promotion, has been a goal of mine and my brother’s for quite some time,” Happ said.
They found the right roaster in Benoit, a former journalist, who was inspired to make sustainably sourced coffee while on mission trips to the Dominican Republic.
“(The partnership) has exceeded my initial expectations,” Benoit said. “But we recognize the need is still there and we want to continue to do our part.”
During the pandemic, many of Chicago’s professional athletes have stepped up in generous support of the Food Depository’s COVID relief efforts. The Food Depository is very grateful for their help in meeting the increased need for food assistance.
Fellow Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward’s donation of $100,000 to the Food Depository in March also inspired Happ to take action.
“I know the Cubs means a lot to this city and I hope that the fans and the people of Chicago realize how much they mean to the Chicago Cubs players,” Happ said.
“It’s something we talk about frequently in the clubhouse,” he said. “This city means a ton to us. It’s become home for a lot of us. … And if there are tough times like there are right now, we’ll be there.”