If nothing else, the challenge of surviving during the pandemic has taught us to prioritize, adapt and distill what is most essential. We’ve needed to re-examine and restructure how we live our lives – individually, locally in our community, and globally.
Our beloved Co-op exemplifies how one organization, anticipating what our community needed as this crisis unfolded a year ago, pivoted in response to provide its shoppers with groceries, goods and safety. At our 2020 Annual Meeting, several of us spoke about how proud we were that the Co-op rose to the challenge and served as a role model for Brattleboro and neighboring communities.
BFC believes that community health and financial health are linked – that the community is stronger when the Co-op is healthy and turns its strength and resources back into the community. Many of us were big fans of the Co-op’s community outreach program – Bag a Bean – which raised money for non-profits in the community. This program served a triple purpose – incentivizing customers to reduce waste by bringing their own shopping bags and then encouraging them to contribute the savings ($.05/bag) to three local organizations at a time, and it brought attention to those entities. Monthly contributions from Bag a Bean averaged $1000, which, shared among three organizations, amounted to $300 to $600 per organization. Organizations that applied to participate in the program were required to be tax exempt, nonprofit, support community members in Windham County, and could have no political or religious affiliation. In addition to receiving a donation, they were featured prominently in Co-op promotional material as well as in local press, increasing visibility in the community.
I always felt a sense of satisfaction when I placed my beans in the jar by the Co-op exit. But, in reality, the Co-op made the contribution – not me. Here’s an illustration of how the Bag a Bean program impacted the Co-op financially: At check-out, my bill totaled $10. I used one bag. I chose either a bean worth $.05 (which I contributed to the non-profit of my choice) or got $.05 off my total. This meant the Co-op got $9.95 from the sale. The donation or discount, amounting to $1000/month, came from the Co-op.
Unfortunately, starting in March 2020, COVID protocols did not allow customers to use their own bags and the Bag a Bean program was suspended. During this dark time in our lives, many of us continued to support our neighbors in need in a variety of creative ways. In November 2020, BFC introduced a new community outreach program – Round Up for Change. As with Bag a Bean, local nonprofits apply to participate. The goal of this program, as stated in a recent Food for Thought edition, is to raise funds for initiatives in Windham County that work in partnership with us to extend our cooperative’s work and meet our Ends Policies. One organization per month is selected. At the checkout, customers are asked if they want to “Round Up for Change.” If they choose, their total is rounded up to the next dollar. An example in Judy’s world of high finance: my total bill is $9.25. If I round up, my new total is $10. My contribution to the nonprofit of the month is $.75. In the simple act of shopping for my weekly groceries, our Co-op is encouraging me to commit to community.
BFC estimates that, when asked at the register, 30% of shoppers have elected to Round Up for Change. In December 2020, a whopping $5454.10 was raised for Groundworks Collaborative, which provides ongoing support to families and individuals facing a full continuum of housing and food insecurities in the greater Brattleboro area. January’s contribution was $5072.81, donated to SUSU CommUNITY – a Black and Indigenous stewarded farm and land-based healing center in Southern VT that elevates Vermont’s land and foodways. Currently, SUSU is raising funds to support the purchase of farmland held in perpetuity for the BIPOC community. In February 2021, BFC shoppers donated $4628.10 to Garden Path Elder Living – Holton Home and Bradley House locally owned long-term residential care facility in Brattleboro – deeply committed to a culture of compassion for elders in their homes. In March, shoppers will have donated to St Brigid’s Kitchen, a 38-year-old Brattleboro community organization serving the hungry in Windham County.
100% of the contributions from Round Up for Change is from the customers, with no financial burden to the BFC in this uncertain time. Speaking personally, it’s been such an easy and painless for me to donate to the community. It’s striking how quickly pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters add up. If Round Up continues to be successful, BFC customers are projected to donate more than $50,000 to the community in a year, giving participating organizations and their stakeholders a big boost towards getting work done. As we look towards the future, perhaps there will be an opportunity to offer both Bag a Bean and Round Up as options for supporting our community. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.
By Judy Fink, BFC Board