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Access Discount Ambassador Training

by Robert Halstead, Owner Records Administrator

Hi there! I’m out here today to make sure everyone knows about our Access Discount program. It provides a 10% discount on all purchases to those who qualify. If this doesn’t apply to you at this time in your life, maybe you know someone who could use some assistance.

More or less, this is what I would say to you if I saw you at the store while tabling to promote Willy Street Co-op’s Access Discount. Once per month, Co-op Services Department staff set up at each retail site to help promote a variety of community nutrition resources. We do this in partnership with Second Harvest who provides a representative to sign people up for FoodShare benefits and answer any questions. Consulting with this representative takes place in the Community Rooms at Willy East and Willy West to help maintain privacy. At Willy North, we reserve a conference room in our neighboring Lakeview Library for these consultations. 

I think it’s a shame that there are stigmas around needing any kind of public assistance, but it is especially hard to see this play out in regards to food. This prevents many people from obtaining the help they need and deserve. Part of the reason we reach out to everyone when we promote the Access Discount is to help normalize conversations about food insecurity. Second Harvest tells us that it often takes three instances of encountering information about FoodShare before someone feels comfortable enough to seek out the help or ask for more information.

It is my hope that a vast majority of those you reading this already know quite a bit about our Access Discount or at the very least, that it exists. I am thankful that oftentimes I don’t even make it to the second sentence of the spiel I shared at the beginning of this article before I get interrupted. “Yep, I know all about it. Thank you for being out here!” As much as I enjoy discussing this program with anyone and everyone, nothing makes me happier during these shifts than to hear positive reactions from those who already know about it. 

What about you? Do you know the details of this program well enough to explain to someone who might qualify? Well, if you’ve read this far you might have forgotten that the title of this article is “Access Discount Ambassador Training.” That’s right. You’re in the middle of a training right now, and look at your progress! You are already about one-third of the way through, and I promise the rest will be relatively painless!

Access Discount History

For over 25 years, Willy Street Co-op extended non-equity paying, special ownerships including a 10% courtesy discount for those who were seniors (over 60), had disabilities, or qualified for low-income assistance. Staff memberships also fell into this non-equity paying category and included a 20% discount as well as all benefits of Ownership. 

In 2005, courtesy ownerships were found to no longer be financially sustainable. Concerns focused on the fact that courtesy discounts with no equity invested were outpacing the growth of sales for the Co-op. Equity is an important part of cooperative business, as it better positions your Co-op to make investments that benefit all owners, and finance expenditures from internal resources rather than borrowing from others. From 2005 to 2008, a Courtesy Discount Task Force met to find a new solution. In the fall of 2008, they recommended replacing the courtesy ownerships and their discounts with a program based on financial need only. The Access Discount program was proposed for those with low income, and the 20% employee discount became a benefit of Ownership for Owners who work for the Co-op. The changes were fully implemented in March 2009.

Unlike our former courtesy memberships, Access Owners were now required to make equity payments which meant that they were able to begin contributing to the Co-op’s capital, a key part of the cooperative principles, like all other Owners, in addition to receiving the Owner benefits. Investing equity while enrolled in the Access Discount program is made affordable by the option of paying reduced equity installment plans towards a paid-in-full Ownership ($4/yr for Individual Accounts, $7/yr for Household Accounts) over a 14 year time period (instead of the standard seven year payment plan). Additionally, Access Owners receive 10% off of almost all their grocery purchases,  one coupon for a free class every year at enrollment, as well as one free tote bag for each person on the account to carry their groceries home. 

In the 10 years since it began, the Access program has remained financially sustainable enough that we continue to look for ways to expand the program to benefit more people experiencing food insecurity. More on that later. Right now, let’s talk about how to apply for enrollment.


To apply for the Access Discount program, you can talk with staff at the Customer Service desk. You must show proof of income (annual income, before taxes, at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline) or registration in one of the following assistance programs:

QUEST Food Share Program (SNAP)

Medicaid (BadgerCare/Senior Care)

Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Section 8 Housing Assistance/Community Development Authority (HUD)

Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

FairShare CSA Coalition Partner Shares

Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program

HungerCare Food Security Screening

Please visit our website or ask staff at the Customer Service desk to find out what documentation is needed for proof of registration in the programs listed above. 

Once enrolled, using the program couldn’t be easier. The Access Discount is connected to an Owner’s account. When they check out, they will tell the cashier their Owner number and the cashier will confirm the name(s) on the account as they would with any Owner. Both primary and secondary Owners on a Household Ownership account can use the Access Discount, and qualification can come from either the primary Owner or secondary Owner.

Annual Renewal Process

To sustain this benefit for the long term and to avoid sharing personal information at the registers, all Access Owners are asked to renew their discount application during the month of March at the Customer Service desk. All Access Owners who were enrolled before January 1, 2019 were sent a renewal letter on February 15. At the time of renewal, we ask Owners who are using the Access Discount to show us any current eligibility documents to verify them for the benefit and ensure consistency in our process.

The discount gets taken off any accounts that do not renew by March 31, 2019. There is not a penalty for missing the renewal deadline. However, we take multiple measures to communicate this date and process to ensure the discount continues for those who qualify. 

Access Discount Review Committee

Every two years a committee is formed to review and assess the Access Discount program as it stands and considers recommendations for improvements/changes to be implemented beginning in the following fiscal year. This group consists of the Co-op Services Director, the Owner Records Administrator, a Co-op Finance staff member, a Board member, and two or three Owners who either have participated in the Access Discount Program themselves, or have other personal or professional experience with food insecurity. 

The committee is meeting again this year. At the time of writing this article, we have only had our first of three meetings, and the thoughtful, creative, and positive energy present in the room was palpable. I have no doubt that this group will provide important recommendations to strengthen and expand the Access Discount program going forward. Stay tuned as you can be certain that we will broadcast the end result of this committee’s diligent work. 

Off You Go

Well, look at that! You made it through what can traditionally be a fairly dry, but incredibly important topic. I congratulate you and hereby appoint you to the position of Willy Street Co-op Access Discount Ambassador. Your mission is to go forth and spread the word about the Access Discount to anyone you think could benefit from the program. Furthermore, I challenge you to do what you can to normalize conversations about food insecurity. We need to be more open as a society in discussing this problem if we have any chance of finding effective and lasting solutions.