I received a wide spectrum of comments on last month’s column. Some were shocked—they had no idea how much we have been swept into the struggles that confront so many in our town. Others, who are more aware of this, were largely positive about shining a light on the situation. I take heart in the mostly positive reactions, and hope that you who have read this and thought more deeply about it share your resources and your energies in whatever ways you feel moved to do so. The more we confront and speak openly about what ails our neighbors and by extension ourselves, the more apt we are to avoid the most tragic of results. Again, solutions are anything but clear, and yet we must work together to learn from others and reach out across difficult divides to reach better outcomes.
Meanwhile, we are preparing for our Annual Meeting, our official check in with you, our owners, to let you know how your business is doing. As you may have heard, we are narrowing the window to inspire you to vote for this year’s candidates, and I am thrilled that we have some new folks stepping up to the plate to assist in guiding our organization forward. So it will soon be time for you to exercise your right and responsibility and participate! I’ll let you in on a little news, which you will see in your Annual Report—we have some good financial news to celebrate, finally, and just to make sure we take the time to do so, we are planning a good old-fashioned dance party along with our business meeting this year. So please make plans to come Friday night, November 10, to the New England Youth Theater and enjoy some community, companionship, and great food and fun!
As some of you know, I report to the Board of Directors every month, not just on what is newsworthy at the time, but also a directed check-in on policies that the board has set out as “guardrails” to our work. This ensures that everything gets a thorough look-see at least once a year, and requires data and summaries to back up anything that our staff and I have to say. Last month, I reported on our shareholder program, working and otherwise.
One wonderful statistic that I have mentioned in this column before is the growth of active shareholders in our Co-op. In tracking these new folks, we categorize them by 1.) new residents to the area, 2.) participants in programs such as Food for All or Elders, and my favorite category, 3.) “finally’s.” The latter have realized that their shopping habits have landed them squarely in our main customer base or, in some cases, that our Co-op represents a community endeavor, the likes of which very few retail establishments in the area provide. The growth last fiscal year in active shareholders is 6%, to 7,236, which is an amazing and heartwarming number.
Another trend that we have observed is the long decline in working shareholders, a reflection of both lifestyles not allowing time to do shareholder work, as well as categories of shareholders, such as Elders and Food for All participants, that do not require volunteer hours. The average change in hours worked from the prior year to this past fiscal year was down eleven percent. Included in this number, however, is a healthy 150% increase in hours credited to community non-profit organizations. This is a happy result of our concern for community strategy, both a cooperative principle and an “End” policy for our Board of Directors. This means that we have to plan accordingly for assistance in some of the traditional shareholder work slots, including increasing staff time to cover some of those tasks. We are hopeful that you will continue to step up for event support and that you will continue to assist our community partners in their important work, which contributes greatly to positive change in our community.
Speaking of community partners, in addition to your volunteered hours credited here at the register in discounts, your Co-op contributed over $20,000 last year to many of those non-profits, through sponsorships, Bag-a-Bean awards, NOFA Share the Harvest, in-kind donations, and more.
Finally, it’s Co-op Month, a happy nod every October to the alternative, empowering, and positive approach that cooperatives around the country and especially the world bring to their members. We will be honoring some of those co-ops in the store, in highlights in special flyers, and in following up in whatever way we can to assist co-ops and their communities in the devastated aftermath of hurricanes, storm surges, wild fires, and all the difficult ways in which our planet and our country is currently suffering. Through the investment in economic democracy that has benefited so many, especially in rural and underserved areas, cooperation among cooperatives benefits the individual members the most directly. We are proud to participate in sustainable rebuilding efforts in concert with all the co-ops in the National Cooperative Grocers family as well as the National Cooperative Business Association/Cooperative League of the USA to maximize our support. Thank you for being a part of our web of cooperation!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager