RCC groundbreaking

Originally published at the News & Record

Billion-dollar corporations routinely expect tax-funded sweeteners to come to our city — or to not leave for somewhere else.

So it’s hard to find much fault with the relatively modest taxpayer help that has gone to the Renaissance Community Coop.

You may have heard of this dogged effort to build a community-owned cooperative grocery store and revive an ailing shopping center in northeast Greensboro. The $250,000 grant represents barely a speck on the city budget.

But it means much more than that in a place where the simple act of buying decent groceries at a fair price has been a struggle.

Finally, after nearly 17 years of false starts and dashed hopes, they broke ground Tuesday afternoon. Hallelujah.

The sun was unforgiving, even at 10:30 a.m., making one of the city’s most notorious food deserts feel literally like a desert. But nobody seemed to mind.

To understand fully the significance of all this, go to one of the meetings. You’ll see people, young and old, black and white, from all corners of the city, pooling their time and money to see the vision through.

The grocery co-op is a national model in community empowerment. “There a lot of eyes on this community, waiting to see how Greensboro performs,” said Kim Cameron of the Renaissance Center’s development partner, Self-Help Ventures of Durham. It will belong to the community it serves and employ community members.

So far, the co-op has raised $1.48 million and sold 558 memberships. Still, there’s more to be raised. Later Tuesday, a $250,000 request for a county grant that would match the city’s was rejected, 6-3. “What we’re creating here is a domino effect,” said Commissioner Alan Branson, a Republican. “If we do for one, we should do for all, in my opinion.”

Why? All requests aren’t created equal and should be judged on their individual merits.

Democratic Commissioner Ray Trapp, a co-op advocate, said he was disappointed. “But six people voting against this won’t stop the co-op from happening.”

And he’s right. One setback won’t undo years of progress. The project will go on.

The commissioners’ misjudgment notwithstanding, the potential dividends are well worth the investment:

  • A health clinic, a pharmacy, a police substation and a grocery co-op, which will pay workers $10 an hour.
  • Convenient access to fresh, healthy food.
  • A new foothold for economic success in a chronically underserved section of town.
  • The community pride and self-confidence that will come with that.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “poor choices” and lack of initiative in the needier corners of our community. Not here.

These folks have tugged so hard on their collective bootstraps that there hardly are any straps left to tug.

That’s why, on Tuesday morning, they cheered and clapped and refused to budge even as the heat was rising in stifling waves from the sun-baked asphalt.

And they were feeling just fine.

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