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The Co-op Difference: Together Our Grocery Can Do Great Things

No matter what people think of the Willy Street Co-op, there’s one thing we certainly can agree on without a doubt: we’re different! We were created by our community and for our community and that is what makes us and keeps us unique. As such and by principle, we are different than other stores because how we’re governed, our economic standing, and what products we carry are entirely dependent on your collective input and your collective purchases. Everything we do in our store and out in the community we can attribute back to you: our Owners. We take our commitment to open membership, democracy, economic participation, autonomy, education, cooperation and community seriously and every year we hope to take those commitments to even higher levels. We are who you are, and when we shop and cooperate together, our capital, the common property of the cooperative, can do wonderful things for our local economy and abroad. Here’s some of the ways that this past year and this coming year we plan on continuing to make a difference in the larger community in which our cooperative resides.

Allied Community Co-op
Since late 2014, we have been meeting with Allied Community Cooperative (ACC), a multi-stakeholder cooperative made up of neighborhood residents and partnering organizations committed to local investment in the future of the Allied Drive Neighborhood. In our meetings with each other we have been working towards a solution to the Allied Drive Neighborhood’s lack of access to fresh foods and grocery services. Throughout the process, ACC has expressed an interest in developing the solution themselves. We’ve worked together with that in mind to develop a reply to the City of Madison’s Request for Proposals regarding siting a grocery within the neighborhood. The Cityhas offered up to $300,000 in the form of a partially or fully forgivable loan for the development they select. ACC proposes, following a feasibility study, to open a healthy corner store as a consumer and possibly worker-cooperative hybrid that would be situated in the City’s proposed future neighborhood center, with a tentative timeline for opening in 2018. Healthy corner stores are part of a national movement providing solutions to food access. All around the country there are people investing in either converting a current corner store to a store with healthier choices or siting new healthy corner stores in places where fresh food is needed most. The Food Trust, a healthy corner store network in Philadelphia, puts it this way: “In neighborhoods that lack supermarkets, families often rely on these corner stores, also known as mom-and-pop stores or bodegas, to buy food.” So why not provide healthy choices? According to the National League of Cities’ Sustainable Cities Institute, “city and community leaders [nationwide] are promoting healthy neighborhoods by encouraging small food shops to provide nutritious, affordable option for residents living in food deserts.” Siting a healthy corner store in the Allied Drive Neighborhood could bring several opportunities: it will not compete with a full service grocery, it will becomplementary, meaning a full service grocery could still be sited in the neighborhood and perhaps close without leaving the neighborhood with no food sources. A small store will give ACC the opportunity to be the cornerstone of the City’s neighborhood center, which may attract stronger usage and other neighborhood entrepreneurial endeavors and activities to the facility. Starting small will allow the Allied Community Cooperative to develop their retail skills thoughtfully and intentionally, and grow in an organic way that meets their community needs at their own speed and size (similar to how we have grown). The store would also allow for direct neighborhood participation in job development and entrepreneurialism. We are pleased and proud to be participating in this project and our growing relationship with our new neighboring cooperative. Our Co-op has dedicated both a $3,000 Community Reinvestment Fund grant to ACC’s cooperative development as well as labor time and some funding in Fiscal Year 2016 to mentor this project with further assistance from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. At the time of writing we are hoping for good news from the City regarding the pursuit of ACC’s creative proposal.

Literacy Network: English for Health and the Literacy Kitchen
For several years, Literacy Network has been a Community Reinvestment Fund grant recipient for their English for Health class, which is dedicated to improving health and nutritional knowledge among immigrant populations. As most recently stated in the May 2014 Reader, “the course runs for 12 weeks and familiarizes parents with healthy, affordable food choices and practices via activities in the kitchen, at the store, and at home.” Our funding provided for nutritional curriculum development and instruction, child care to support parental attendees, and Co-op gift cards for students to shop for a healthy meal that they prepare as a course project. This year, we decided to move this program out of the Community Reinvestment Fund grant cycle and to sponsor the program instead. As such, we are excited to be Literacy Network’s partner in expanding this program further to bring a piece of the English for Health classes to the general public. Starting at the end of this summer, we are sponsoring Literacy Network’s hosting of “The Literacy Kitchen Summer Series,” where students who have participated in English for Health will prepare a meal from their culture and share the meal and what it means to their home community with the public. Literacy Kitchen will also serve as an opportunity for you to find out more about Literacy Network. Please see the Community Roomcalendar in the future for full details about this exciting opportunity to learn about both Literacy Network and the personal value of food and food knowledge in our wide cultural community.

New Owner, Access, and Employment Materials Soon Available in Spanish and Plain Language
Part of our growing partnership with Literacy Network is an opportunity to review the materials we have available for customers interested in Ownership, materials for New Owners, forms for Access Discount users, and information for prospective staff, and have them translated by Literacy Network into both plain language for low English literacy as well as into Spanish. As we have just revamped all of these materials, we are very excited to translate them for a broader audience. We hope to have the newly translated materials this fall.

Access Discount Updates
This past year a committee of staff, Owners, and the Board convened to review the Access Discount qualifiers and outreach efforts. For those who may not know, the Access Discount Program is available to Owners who demonstrate need for financial assistance. The Access Discount Program is available to Owners as soon as they sign up as Owners and during enrollment in the Access Discount Program, equity may be paidoff in smaller installments to make investment in our Co-op more affordable and manageable. Eligible Owners receive a 10% discount on the majority of our products as well as Co-op classes. Owners are enrolled from the time they apply through the following March 31st, and eligible users may re-enroll on an annual basis. Eligibility has traditionally been based on enrollment in one or more of a variety of social services. It is important, as social services change from time to time, to review the program on a biennial basis. Here is a roundup of our review:

  • The 10% discount will not change at least through Fiscal Year 2017.
  • Current users will not be affected by any changes until the re-enrollment period this coming March. New enrollees will be eligible for the new qualifiers.
  • All current choices for qualifiers remain in effect except for enrollment in School Breakfast or Lunch and Child and Adult Food Care programs. Many public schools are starting to offer this program to all students, making proof of income harder to determine by use of this program alone, and similar income eligibility for Access can be proven in other ways.
  • In addition to current qualifiers, there are a series of new choices to demonstrate qualifications: enrollment in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, FairShare CSA Partner Shares, or any proof of income or program enrollment that indicates annual or monthly gross income is at or less than 130% Federal Poverty Level.
  • Co-ops and nonprofit group homes whose qualifications for all their membership or residence include one of the qualifications for the Access Discount Program may be extended Access Discount privileges for the entire nonprofit household or cooperative Ownership account.
  • Owners who can prove Access Discount Program eligibility will be a permanent state of the Owner’s affairs via a letter from a medical practitioner or case worker will no longer need to renew on an annual basis.
  • The Co-op Services Department will seek partnerships with other nonprofit food access entities to develop outreach to underserved populations regarding Access Discount Program availability.

At the time of writing, we were in the process of revamping our Access Discount information brochures and enrollment/renewal forms to accommodate these changes. We will keep you informed about further outreach as it is developed and finalized. The Fiscal Year 2015 Access Committee Members were Faustina Bohling, Owner-at-large, United Way of Dane County; Stephanie Jung, Owner-at-large, Second Harvest; Ashley Kuehl, Owner Records Administrator; Mike Martez-Johnson, Board of Directors; Kirsten Moore, Director of CooperativeServices; and Becca Schill, Accounts Receivable. On behalf of the Co-op, we thank you for your service on this important committee. If you have questions about the Access Discount Program changes, please contact Ashley Kuehl at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Race To Equity Funding
As previously reported in our April Reader, “From March 23rd-29th, thanks to our Board of Directors and Owners who have donated their abandoned equity for charitable purposes, we were able to launch a week-long matching campaign with our customers. Customers participated in CHIP at the registers per usual, supporting all of the nonprofits who participate in Community Shares of Wisconsin, and then the Co-op matched the donations for the entire week, pledging the match to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) Race to Equity Team. WCCF is also a Community Shares nonprofit.” That matching campaign earned the WCCF Race to Equity Team $4,651.14. Here is what Wenona Wolf from WCCF had to say about how this funding will support Race to Equity:

“Funding from the Willy Street Co-op will go to support the on-going research by the Race to Equity Team. The Team is currently collecting, analyzing, and tracking updated data on the disparities that continue to exist between the black and white populations in Dane County. Our research thus far, has drawn attention to a serious problem in the community and is initiating change on many levels and we hope that we can continue devoting our efforts to narrowing disparity gaps in our community and build the capacity needed to truly address the issues.

“The funding will also help support the Race to Equity’s Community Ambassadors Fellowship which works to lift up the voices of those in the community whose life experiences were reflected in the data. Community Ambassadors help disseminate information and findings to community members, conduct presentations and facilitate discussions on Race to Equity data, assist in the creation of truncated versions of the report to make the information more accessible to all, and act as a liaison between Race to Equity and the larger community. Currently, the Community Ambassadors serve in an approximate five areas of Madison: Allied, Darbo, Northside, South Madison, and Meadowwood.”

As per our agreement with WCCF, Race to Equity Team will be receiving the proceeds from the March matching campaign this month, when we abandon this year’s equity.

Over $45K Raised For Nepal Relief
Our Co-op customers are extraordinarily generous, and that spirit of giving allowed for our Co-op to engage in a record-breaking register campaign to assist with disaster relief. Over a period from April 30th-June 14th, our customers donated a whopping $45,804.85 to World Food Program USA (WFP), the American food security arm for the United Nations. As we reported last month, our campaign has directly affected WFP’s ability to provide food for 1.4 million people in Nepal over a three month span, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25th and another 7.3 magnitude earthquake on May 12th. 100% of all the funds going to WFP came from your Co-op customers, and that is simply amazing. We cannot possibly express enough gratitude for this effort.
Special thanks to our teams working in the Front End for being the champions for spreading the word about both the Community Shares Race to Equity matching and WFP Nepal Relief register campaigns. Another special thanks to Community Shares of Wisconsin for sharing register space that is typically dedicated solely to Community CHIP with these other two campaigns.

The Co-op Difference Is You
At the end of the day your Co-op is a grocery store. It’s your input, your equity investments, your dollars, and your generosity that support our mission and allow us to do the wonderful things we are able to do in the community from sharing our grocery and cooperative expertise and resources with other local cooperatives, to the Community Reinvestment Fund, to the Access Discount Program, to supporting Community Shares of Wisconsin via the Community CHIP program, and to other rare and special charitable register campaigns for providing food for disaster relief. Your investment in our store and your choice to spend your shopping dollars here has truly allowed for you to invest in your community and for us to develop strong partnerships in creating food access. Thank you for making your investment and shopping for a tremendous difference.

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