Weavers Way looks at new options for working members to complete volunteer hours

Weavers Way Co-op is looking to give members more ways to satisfy their volunteer hours outside of its food market walls.

The Northwest Philadelphia cooperative, which has stores in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, has recently added the option of volunteering with Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), an organization dedicated to preserving the area’s natural assets.

“One of our core principles is around the environment and sustainability,” said Membership Coordinator Beau Bibeau. “So partnering with a community organization that’s trying to keep the Wissahickon clean is a way to bridge that.”

The nonprofit performs a number of tasks, including making minor trail repairs, cleaning up trash and removing graffiti and invasive plants.

FOW Executive Director Maura McCarthy said that a number of Weavers Way members have already taken advantage of the Fairmount Park-based alternative.

“It’s been wonderful source of slightly more skilled labor,” said McCarthy.

In addition to the Wissahickon cleanup efforts, the cooperative is also working on establishing a reading program at C.W. Henry, an elementary school across from the company’s Mt. Airy store on Carpenter Lane.

Weavers Way will also continue to offer more skill specific alternatives, including taking photos for events, editing “The Shuttle,” the organization’s monthly newspaper, or building benches.

It’s all part an effort to provide options that better suit the busy schedules of member volunteers, said Bibeau.

Changes in volunteering at Weavers Way

Weavers Way doesn’t require members to volunteer in order to shop like in the past, but those who do get a five percent discount on goods, food or otherwise.

Working members must complete six hours at either store during the year to reap the benefit of the discount. Membership hours are typically fulfilled through tasks like working behind the deli counter or bagging dry goods.

The co-op also started allowing non-members to shop at its stores. Non-members, like non-working members, don’t receive the discount.

Non-working members, however, are still considered part owners of the cooperative and get money back when it profits.

How much money a member – working or non-working – receives is proportionate to how much they spend. As always, the Weavers Way board votes on the rate of return.

The dual-store policy change came around January 2010, about six months after the Chestnut Hill store opened for business.

Bibeau said the co-op currently has 5,000 members—1,440 households of which are qualified as “working.”

“It’s more like a business owner doing work in their own business rather than volunteering at a non-profit or something like that,” said Bibeau. “Although it has a similar feel to it.”

Volunteering “a small price to pay”

Jey Auritt said she’s been a Weavers Way volunteer for over 35 years, but doesn’t like the recent change in standards. Although she doesn’t mind volunteering, she said the benefits aren’t that significant.

“I volunteer because I’ve done it for many, many years, but there’s really no incentive to do it now,” she said. “The percentage off that you get, it’s not worth it. I’m reassessing whether I should volunteer.”

Auritt said she doesn’t think much of the expanded volunteer options, and just sticks to working in the deli, her favorite task.

But other members seem to enjoy the unique arrangement.

Claire Nagel, a Weavers Way member since the 80s, said she doesn’t mind volunteering. In fact, she finds it refreshing.

“It’s just a nice atmosphere, the thought that people are working together,” said Nagel. “It’s just nice to be with people.”

Nagel enjoys the activity so much that she kept her Weavers Way membership even after she moved to New Jersey in 2001. She shops and volunteers when she travels to Philadelphia for other reasons.

But Nagel also wants to support the co-op’s commitment to sustainability.

“I’m in favor of things like locally grown food,” she said. “Here you know that they’ve researched it and made sure that everything is good.”

Although Nagel said it’s not a problem for her, she appreciates that the co-op accommodates members’ volunteer needs—particularly the elderly. She once spent two of her hours working in the offices on her feet. She said she thinks she’s provided with more than enough work options.

Judith Pritchard, a new member of Weavers Way, said volunteering is a small price to pay for organic food that better suits her medical needs. She has celiac disease, which is basically an allergy to gluten, a protein part of wheat and grain products.

“I’m able to get the food that I need and it’s affordable and organic,” Pritchard said. “It’s definitely less expensive at Weavers Way than it is at Whole Foods or something like that.”

Pritchard said she’s only been a member for about a month and has yet to explore all of the available volunteer options. Packaging food is just fine with her for now.

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