By James Lamar Gibson and John Jones
Once it is up and running, the Renaissance Community Cooperative grocery store will serve thousands of northeast Greensboro residents in a neighborhood that has languished as a food desert for more than 15 years.
The store will offer a variety of healthy food choices at reasonable prices. It will bring jobs that pay well above the minimum wage to a community where the average income is half that of residents on the city’s western side. And its profits will be returned to the community.
Community support for the RCC is widespread and growing. The representation from all parts of the city at monthly meetings and other events is unlike most other gatherings in Greensboro. Since the project’s inception in 2012, hundreds of people from throughout the city have chosen to learn about and prepare to own a cooperative grocery store.
“I believe that my side of town suffers if people on the eastern side of town are suffering and I am involved because my family and I have made a commitment to our fellow community members,” remarked one co-op member from west Greensboro. From traveling to Bloomington, Ind., for the “Up and Coming, Up and Running” conference for food co-ops in all stages of development; to attending a conference on cooperative management in Asheville; to visiting actual stores such as Company Shops Market in Burlington and Deep Roots Market in Greensboro, our members have gathered information and shared experiences that deepen our belief that this store can be successful.
The city is seeking to facilitate parity among all of its residents. The RCC and the larger revitalization efforts of the Renaissance Plaza shopping center serve as examples of community-led redevelopment that can be replicated in other areas of Greensboro and around the country.
Through a partnership with the Self-Help Ventures Fund, a nonprofit community development financial institution, the city is making a strong statement that organizations with a solid track record of improving community access to wealth and opportunities have a role to play here.
According to its website, “The Ventures Fund has provided more than $6.29 billion in financing to 69,578 small businesses, nonprofits, and first-time homebuyers. In 2012, SHVF made 32 loans for $34 million, financing five loans for homebuyers, 13 for small businesses and 14 for community facilities.” What a partner to have!
Another key partner has been UpLift Solutions, a nonprofit grocery store consulting firm from Philadelphia that recently has been in the news for its pioneering work in alleviating food deserts.
On April 5, the RCC kicked off its membership campaign at the Peeler Recreation Center, directly across the street from the site of the future store. More than 300 people attended the event, featuring testimonials from current members, educational games about cooperatives and the opportunity to join the RCC. Our message that day and going forward is simple: We invite you to share in the faith that has gotten us this far. With our formal membership campaign just beginning, we have 144 members already signed up toward our goal of 1,000 members by early next year.
We feel energized and encouraged at the support we have already received and which is growing daily.
The most important thing we can all do is join the 144 who have already committed to being a part of a game-changing step toward a better future — not just for residents of northeast Greensboro, but for the entire city.
James Lamar Gibson is membership and fundraising chairman, and John Jones is board president, Renaissance Community Cooperative.