Equal Dollars explores bringing ‘community currency’ program to Germantown

With food, a film and an interactive game using string, the Equal Dollars Community Currency group held its first member meet-up event at Wired Beans Cafe on Friday night to discuss ways to develop and expand the group’s services-for-dollars system.

It is a monetary system, with a barter aspect, in which members offer goods and services in exchange for “Equal Dollars” currency which comes in $1, $5, $10 and $20 denominations.

Members offer services such as house cleaning or music lessons and receive Equal Dollars as payment to use at the food markets, thrift store, urban farm or community bike-refurbishing program.

Deneene C. Brockington, the group’s director, said, by way of example, that her fifth-grade son received tutoring services from an Equal Dollars member, and she teaches Zumba fitness classes that can be paid for in Equal Dollars.

The overarching goal of the Resources for Human Development-sponsored group, she noted, was to establish a system in which these “dollars” were used for “basic everyday things like food and prescription medications and clothing.”

While the list of participating vendors was a small one when she joined five years ago, the group is working to add more.

Food markets as a draw

Every Monday, Equal Dollars operates food markets in Strawberry Mansion, Feltonville and on the cusp of Germantown at 4700 Wissahickon Ave., which is open from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

“The food market is really the driving force behind letting people know,” Brockington said Friday. “Within the last two years, I’ve seen the faces change at our food market. It’s really community driven. When [people] join the system, they’re joining because we have good deals on fresh produce.

“The food we get is donated food. It’s food that would otherwise get thrown in the trash, but it’s good food. It’s not bad food. We get it from the three largest food distributors in the area.”

A 14,000 square-foot urban farm at 3250 North 17th Street also provides produce to be sold at the markets. There, volunteers help pick the squash, zucchini, beans, melons and other fruit and vegetables that grow in the space.

Need varies by neighborhood

The team also works to assess a community’s needs, and tailors the Equal Dollars offering to it, Brockington said.

“In the South Kensington community, we specifically said, ‘No, we’re not going to bring food in this community,'” Brockington said. “We’re going to find the value for the Dollars within the community.”

On Saturday, when Equal Dollars and the South Kensington Community Partners organized a business-district clean-up day, volunteers received Equal Dollars for their work which can be used on April 6 at participating local businesses.

“The businesses are benefiting from a clean-up and volunteers are benefiting from discounts from their favorite local businesses, so we’re really excited,” said Sara Reed, community outreach coordinator.

“We would love to do something like this in Germantown,” she continued. “We feel that communities have all of these untapped resources and untapped local human energy that just sort of go by the wayside. Every time a member tells me about how Equal Dollars is changing their life and making it better is so meaningful and it comes so unexpectedly.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.