In the Balance

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

I have been thinking about balance lately. This concept governs so much of what we do here at the Co-op, where we try to be true to our values, while respecting boundaries of economic, social, and individual realities. Last month, I reported on the process of negotiating a contract that respects and supports our staff, while keeping prices reasonable and paying producers fairly. These days, we have had to think about the challenges of being in business as a welcoming community marketplace, while impacts of a population struggling with addiction wreak havoc in and around our store. We, like many of you, want to treat our fellow humans with compassion and respect. We, like you, struggle with the decision of how to respond to panhandlers and other activities.

The reality of the situation is stark. There have been two overdoses on store premises, as well as multiple instances of bad behavior often spurred by intoxication. We experience a lot of theft, which sometimes takes interesting forms. Recently, we observed very large bottle return slips from our bottle machine, only to discover that some enterprising individuals had figured out that by jamming the machine, they could fool it into counting phantom bottles and cans—lots of them. We have now closed our bottle machine service, with a limit in the store, while we think through how—or even if—we should reinstall a different machine, only open during business hours, or under closer scrutiny. We have struggled with how to handle returns of multiple milk bottles, which were purchased on EBT, poured out, and then redeemed the same day.

All of these situations are traumatic to our staff. Besides being very protective of our assets, a trait that we as shareholders and co-workers are very grateful for, the ramifications of serious addiction are really hard for our people, who don’t expect to deal with these types of challenges while working at a grocery store, especially a warm and friendly one like ours. They also feel compassion for the situation, and want to do the right thing, whatever that may be.

So, what now? We have been seeking assistance from our community partners, like the Groundworks Collaborative, the police, and the downtown business community. We are considering whether to provide biohazard needle boxes in our public restrooms in the interest of safety. We are talking with staff and our employee assistance program to ensure that our own staff and their families have access to support around the issues that arise from these situations. We are making packets of community resources available for patrons who might need to access them. We are planning to work on a creative solution to the panhandling issue with some of these partners I mentioned before. As always, I am open to input from you on any or all of this. Ultimately, we will make the best decisions that we can, ensuring that we remain a welcoming community marketplace above all.

With these challenges, staffing shortages, and the frequent refrigeration setbacks we have had this summer, we have been a bit remiss in taking care of the grounds. Some of you have been very critical of the growth of weeds in the swale and by the brook, and we apologize for that. But we have had to prioritize our attention more than usual, and have not had a huge amount of help from shareholders to assist us in weeding, etc. If you are itching to do some work outside (pun intended), then please stop by Shareholder Services and commit to a weeding session. Bring your own tools if you are fussy, or borrow some from us. And thanks!

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager