Carlos Nunez, a graphic designer from Roxborough, wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of starting a food co-op in the neighborhood.
He was one of the more than 200 people who attended an informational meeting at the Mishkan Shalom synagogue last April, and while the turnout gauged a strong community interest, Nunez felt ambivalent about his own participation. But then he went to a second meeting. After hearing a woman’s passion for the co-op model, he realized that the Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-op Initiative could become a “soapbox for the community.”
Nunez is now a member of the steering committee that held a fundraiser last night on the second floor of Lucky’s Last Chance in Manayunk. About 100 people paid $5 to support the co-op by gathering to hear about its progress.
Hannah Datz, a 2010 graduate of La Salle University, greeted guests when they arrived. Datz became involved in the Initiative when she moved to Roxborough last year. Now a corporate software solutions engineer, she wanted to use some of her former nonprofit experience to “build something from the ground up.” Since the Initiative’s first gathering, a core group of eight to ten people including Datz gathered to discuss and debate the philosophies behind various co-op models.
Nunez agreed that these discussions were and are important. “There are still so many steps before we get to the fun portion,” he said before grinning and adding, “like ordering organic M&M’s.”
As expected when philosophies need to yield practicalities, it is difficult to define these many future steps. Two necessary benchmarks exist in the immediate future. Currently, the Initiative has obtained legal counsel to become incorporated through the Pennsylvania Not For Profit Corporation. Once that is secured, there will be a market study to recommend which neighborhood — Manayunk or Roxborough — is more likely to produce long-term sustainability.
At that point, the Co-op Initiative will need to raise at least half a million dollars in member equity loans before it can qualify for a bank loan. “But we can’t move forward,” said Carlos Nunez, “unless we have more volunteers.”
Alice Racz, a single mom from Roxborough, brought her two young daughters to the event and asked Nunez how she could help. Racz said that although her volunteer time is limited, she was motivated by a desire to find a local alternative to supermarket shopping. Looking around the room, she noted how many of her friends and neighbors were in attendance.
Daina Higgins and Patrick Byrnes came without knowing anybody else. They relocated from Brooklyn to Roxborough after Higgins, a painter, decided she could benefit more economically in Philadelphia. Like many of the Initiative’s supporters, they currently shop at Weavers Way. Both said they were interested in co-ops as community-operated ventures, not as mere grocery markets.
David Schiman, acting president of the steering committee, echoed this sentiment when he addressed the crowd. More than a place to show for local, organic food, he said a co-op enables members to “participate in how it is managed” by valuing people more than profit in the decision-making process.
Schiman ended his talk with a list of volunteer opportunities. The Initiative is looking for people to donate fundraising, finance, design, and public speaking skills. Those interested in volunteering or in learning more about the co-op’s planning can like the group’s Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.