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Fall 2021

Co-op Table Fall 2021

Free Groceries to Fight Hunger

By Desdra Dawning, Co-op Member

Have you heard about or seen the free grocery store in Olympia? Its current location at the time of this writing is in the parking lot of Stonewall Youth in downtown.

Kim and Sosa are community members intimately familiar with life on the street, living without a house to shelter them. And they have seen first-hand how the various services designed to serve our houseless population, while all very well-intentioned,
still leave a crack for those on the edge to quite easily slip right through. With set scheduled times of operation, rules to follow, ID’s necessary, sign-ins and often long lines, these groups can only go so far in helping people who are quite simply hungry
and tired and in need of help in-the-moment. “People should not have to ask for their basic needs to be met. When you are really hungry, you should not be asked to wait until tomorrow to have something to eat,” Kim says. “People who are pushed to the edge in their lives end up doing things like shoplifting in order to care for their hunger,” Sosa adds. Even those with homes are not always free from hunger, and the need for basic necessities.

And so, in May of this year—2021—they decided to do something about it. They rounded up a used refrigerator, got help refurbishing it, and put out the word as best they could to let folks of good heart know that they were setting up a free groceries station. They were looking for both already-prepared food, and fresh produce—food beyond what was already being offered around the community in neighborhood “Free Food Pantry” shelves with canned and packaged non- perishables. They contacted GrUB and some local farmers, looking for contributions. And they found a place to set up shop at POWER (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights), located in downtown Olympia. At first, it seemed like a good fit, but quickly (in less than a month) the landlord asked them to leave, stating that there were too many people eating in the area. Stonewall Youth, at State and Capitol, then invited them to use their parking lot and offered to take care of the electric bill for the refrigerator.

By June, they were set up with a medium-sized refrigerator, donated through Instagram, and food was coming in from many directions. They were also getting donations of other items that could be used, such as personal care products and things for children. So, they gathered some used wood and created shelves for the non-refrigerator items. Sosa sees this process of people reaching out to help each other as
community-building, and a way to offer help without anyone needing to ask for anything.

It was at this point that something very mean and unkind started to happen. During the night, their refrigerator was destroyed, along with the shelving. This has happened several times, and each time they have found another fridge and wood for shelves. It is also very disheartening to them and to all who benefit from this kind service, to think that anyone would want to destroy what is obviously there to help those of us so much
less fortunate.

Kim and Sosa are doing this work pretty much on their own, even though they are part of a growing movement in the US. YES! Magazine recently published an article about this action, called the Freedge movement (freedge.org). Founded by Berone Oehninger, it sprang up to meet the acute need to address food insecurity and has expanded greatly during the pandemic. The article points out that “…he sees the fridges as a visible reminder that many people don’t have access to enough food, and also a gateway that could create enough food for all through larger efforts that include the people power of mutual aid projects.” The article then goes on to quote Oehninger as saying, “The fridge doesn’t solve food insecurity. What it does well is start a conversation about food insecurity.” “And that conversation,” says YES!, “can lead to
a new urban farm, or more urban kitchens, or even systematic changes on a policy level.”

As for Kim and Sosa, while they very much appreciate the support from Stonewall, they would like to find another place in town, close to downtown, to set up this loving service—a place where they could secure the fridge and shelves during the night, keeping them and all the donated items safe and protected. They would also like to thank everyone who has been so supportive and generous with them as they take on
this daunting task of caring for those on the very edge of our community.

How can the members of the Olympia Food Cooperative help with this project and become part of the community fridge network? Our Westside store has for many years had a Free Store of donated goods. Both stores collect lots of food bank donations. Donating to what is becoming, for our community, a bit of a Free Grocery Store, is a start.

Feel free to contact me for more information. Desdra Dawning:
Desdradawning@yahoo.com

Co-op Table Fall 2021

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Spring 2021

Co-op Table Spring 2021

How can we, as the complicated group of individuals who make up the Olympia Food Co-op, contribute to healing, and what does that mean? Why do we have a sense that we all need a new beginning? Healing our planet, our neighbors, our community, our relationships, our grief: these are thoughts shared by many at this time.

Spring brings to mind for me a few more specific must-do items related to healing- the need to heal our planet as well as the need to change our national labor practices, including raising the minimum wage. Raising wages in this country would benefit all workers, but especially communities with higher numbers of People Of Color, who also have a disproportionate number of workers trying to survive on wages that simply don’t cover living expenses.

As someone who has worked with our annual budgeting for the Co-op for many years, I can tell you that workers’ wages are also very tied to medical expenses for employers and employees. These expenses have been rising for years and while the Co-op has tried very hard to not pass the rising cost on to employees, in the end the need to create a balanced budget, in which expenses don’t outweigh revenue, has often led to minimal increases in wages. The need for a national health care plan that will assist both individuals and families, but also small employers like the Co-op, is something I see as absolutely required to heal our country’s inequities in income, access, and care.

The ‘Fight for $15’ began many years ago for labor organizers, so long that many now believe expenses have already outpaced that figure, at least in some parts of the country. The Co-op Staff started discussions about our hourly wages and especially the starting wage in 2015, when the starting wage was $12.86/hour but made several large increases at the 6-month and 12-month marks of employment. We have had, for most of our history, a seniority-based pay scale with an annual increase of 25 cents/hour for each employee on their “anniversary” as well as annual decisions about other wage adjustments, usually meant to address cost of living increases. Starting in 2016, we were able to make a plan to increase the first years of the wage scale and by 2019, the starting wage had also gone up beyond $15/hour. For 2021, our starting wage is $15.42 and our average wage is $18.62/hour. We estimate that the average cost to the Co-op for each paid labor hour is about $32.02, including wages, payroll taxes, medical benefits and retirement funding. As you can see, medical expenses make a big difference—what changes could we make if more dollars per hour could be funneled into other parts of our budget?

The Staff collective decided to start closing our stores each year on May 1, International Workers Day, partly in hopes of raising awareness of the many struggles facing workers, issues that often seem hidden from consumers as we go through our busy lives, accepting the services of many for work that is often hard, dangerous, underpaid, and even discriminatory. Our workplace is one that is empowered to have difficult conversations about pay and equity and safe work conditions but may millions of workers are not so lucky. At a time when large retailers are making more than ever before for their stockholders, we hope that 2021 can be a time of new beginnings for more workers, with fair pay and access to benefits and safe conditions that should be a human right.

Finding solutions to our need for affordable and non-polluting energy sources would also greatly benefit our most at-risk communities: it has been proven over and over again that race and income correlate with exposure to environmental toxins and reduced life expectancy. We know that the Co-op can be part of the solution to some of these problems, and hope that one new beginning for us all can be finding ways to heal our planet. We look forward to a spring and summer full of biking, composting and gardening, living our best lives outdoors and embracing it. We’ll find our way forward, cooperatively and together, beginning now.

Co-op Table Spring 2021

 

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