Food Co-ops: Harvesting the Power of Collaboration

Collaboration can be a powerful tool. When we tackle issues as a group, we realize how working together and sharing resources can turn into an opportunity for us to grow and succeed in our mission.

Jonquil Hallgate, Executive Director with our partner Surrey Urban Mission, was thinking along the same lines after a discussion with other food service providers about how low-income people were obtaining their food:

“Many of the people who come to our community meals use food banks as well, but most of the stuff that is donated, is not fresh. So, you have no choice over what you are eating. You get whatever is in the box.”

Part of the problem, she realized, are the limited resources most charities and non-profits have to make do with. Fresh food is expensive, and with the number of people in need of charitable food programs on the rise, most charities in the Lower Mainland struggle to make ends meet.

The solution to the problem soon dawned on her: Why not combine forces and start a food co-op for low-income people in Surrey?

Through buying bulk and re-packaging, food costs could be lowered. Members would get an opportunity to socialize, and learn from each other.

“We talked to a lot of people: Single parents, people who are homeless, service providers, and so on. Co-op shopping is the answer. We did a feasibility study and it turned out that it is in fact a viable idea.”

The feasibility study hasn’t been made public yet, but here are some highlights:

Co-ops have a 64% higher survival rate than private businesses in the first five years, compared to a 36% rate for private businesses. Thriving local co-ops like Nelson’s Kootenay Co-op seem to back these numbers up.

The co-op’s goal is to provide its members a 30% reduction in their food costs, including taxes.

Besides supporting service providers and their clients, the new co-op wants to be a facilitator in a movement away from a dependence on charity for food. Low-income individuals and families will have an opportunity to join a member-driven organization where they can actively participate, e.g. through growing their own food.

At the core of the co-op, Jonquil says, is the belief that people prefer to support themselves, rather than depending on charity – which goes against popular stereotypes associated with low-income people and the homeless.

“People living in poverty deserve dignity and respect and they deserve to have a choice over the food they eat, just like everybody else.”

If you want to learn more about the Surrey Urban Mission and its work, visit our partner’s project page, or Surrey Urban Mission’s website.

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