A Welcoming Community

  | Board of Directors, Food For Thought

Last year I wrote my first Co-op article on the topic of a welcoming community. To recap: In that article I spoke about my move to Brattleboro. It was a difficult time in my life, and I was seeking ways to make connections and find affiliation. One of my first decisions was to become a shareholder at the Co-op. I learned I could receive a discount by working two hours a month. Still groping to find my way I worked on average ten hours a week! I didn’t have other commitments and The Co-op was my “go to” place; I developed cordial relationships with Co-op employees, especially with those working the front end. I not only received a discount for my Co-op shopping, I also began to find the connection and affiliation I was seeking. Now I am a Co-op Board Member!

Maybe I am romantic and naïve, but I want others to have a similar Co-op experience. I have made it my mission to introduce people who are unfamiliar with the Co-op to the Co-op. Like many people I gravitate to the familiar. Whether it is the food I eat or the company I keep, I find a certain reassurance in the known. There are people in my orbit who have never heard of a co-op, certainly don’t know it’s not just a grocery store and have never head of member ownership.

It is a source of delight to share my Co-op experience with the uninitiated. Such an event happened recently, inside the front door where the flash-sale cauliflower was on display. Multicolored cauliflower is an unexpected sight. I explained that the cauliflower isn’t dyed, and that watermelons aren’t necessarily red. We had a spontaneous and delightful meeting. On other occasions, I have explained the Food for All program and how its purpose is to help those with financial and food insecurity. I shop the store with this message: We all belong here.

At our last Shareholder Engagement Committee meeting, Sabine Rhyne, our General Manager, suggested we think about ethnic communities, immigrant communities and non-English speaking people in this context: what are the food preferences and the language barriers of different constituencies? Can we be proactive and find ways to reach out to the unseen among us? I accept this challenge enthusiastically.

I’ve been in Brattleboro for 3 ½ years now. I still exist in a relatively small orbit. I am seeking entrée to individuals and groups who are not part of the Co-op community. I have a mailbox at the Co-op, and you can leave a message for me with Shareholder Services. I encourage you to invite someone you know, who is not a Co-op patron, to meet you for coffee in the Cafe. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and it’s contagious. We are most effective when we practice attraction rather than promotion. The Co-op is more than a grocery store! It’s an experience not to be missed. Let’s do our best to spread the word and invite others in. They, and we, won’t regret it.

All the best to all of you as we approach the season of thanks and giving.
Mary Bené