Co-ops across the country, including West Philadelphia’s Mariposa Food Co-op, are developing programs to help low-income residents get access to healthy, local food.
Weavers Way Co-op‘s Food Justice Committee, chaired by former board members Nathea Lee and Sue Wasserkrug, looked at these programs when it came to developing Weavers Way’s own program for lower income residents.
“For example, GreenStar Co-op in Ithaca has a couple of programs, one that is similar to what we’re doing. There’s an alliance of food co-ops in New England, many of which have a program that ours is modeled on, and that is also called Food For All. And Mariposa, in West Philly, has a fund that they use to subsidize membership dues for people who can’t afford it,” Wasserkrug said. (Learn more about Mariposa’s low income fund in our story from July).
The Food Justice committee studied these and other similar programs before making recommendations to Weavers Way’s management team, who then developed Weavers Way’s Food for All program. The discount program for lower income members at the co-op launched earlier this month.
The communities of Northwest Philadelphia served by Weavers Way are diverse, representing a wide range of income brackets and cultural backgrounds. The goal is that the program will help make healthy food more affordable, and therefore more available, to members that might otherwise not think they can afford many of its products.
“Co-op membership has so many benefits: having access to healthy, ethically produced food; being part of an enterprise that supports local farmers and other food producers; knowing where your food comes from; and keeping your dollars in your community,” Wasserkrug said. “But the reality is that these benefits can be very expensive. So programs like Food For All are a way to make the benefits of co-op membership accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t afford to join.”
When the program went live, Weavers Way immediately had inquiries from five members who met the criteria, and they have received many more inquiries by phone and email since then, according to Mary Sweeten, editor of The Shuttle, Weavers Way’s newspaper.
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Both new and existing Weavers Way members can qualify for Food For All if they currently receive food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, TANF—Cash Assistance or WIC. The Food For All program offers a 10 percent discount for lower income members, which can be combined with the 5 percent discount available to working members. Food For All also provides for a reduced minimum equity payment of $5 per year — necessary to become a member — to insure that the investment isn’t a burden on struggling families.
“The Food For All program is just one way that we, as a cooperative community, can be, as they say, part of the solution, in terms of addressing food insecurity,” added Wasserkrug. “But it’s important to note that there is much work to be done, and of course our ultimate goal is a world where everyone has the means to belong to – and experience the benefits of – a co-op, should they choose to do so.”
Image via Weavers Way-30-
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