It’s always nice to hear about the positive impact we’ve had on our community. One of our former employees was recently published in our local paper, writing on the experience she had growing up in Swarthmore, specifically the impact the Co-op had on her childhood. The short essay even won her a The Centennial Foundation scholarship she will be using towards her college studies. Needless to say, we think this is all pretty rad.
No organization has had a greater impact on my life than the Swarthmore Co-op. It may seem odd to identify a grocery store, but I literally can trace to the Co-op my fondest memories and my path from childhood through adolescence to young adulthood. The Co-op is much more than a food store in any event. In many ways it symbolizes what I love about Swarthmore. It has a rich history, dating back 75 years. It began through collaboration, having been started by a few Swarthmore women trying to find a way to get fresh and quality produce during the Great Depression. It has survived and prospered through difficult times, reaching out to the community for help and to give back. It is communal in the best way in that its members are its owners. It celebrates diversity and community as a core element of its mission.
My earliest memories of the Co-op surround the special treat I would get on shopping trips with one of my parents. Of course, we shopped in the ‘old’ Co-op building, which to a young girl seemed like a dense maze, old, cluttered but wonderful. And of course my first independent trip, all on my own, was to the Co-op, while I was still in elementary school. I felt so accomplished. I smiled today knowing that in Swarthmore, my first real independent trip was probably surreptitiously watched by neighbors along the way, looking out for my well-being. With the completion of the new, the Co-op became my preteen hangout. Once again, I credit the safety and the closeness of a nurturing community that allowed middle school students to congregate and act inappropriately without harsh judgment.
It has been in high school, though, that the Co-op has had the greatest impact. It was my first official job with significant and real responsibility. Working at the Co-op these last few years has affirmed everything that I already knew and love about Swarthmore. People who have known me since I was born do not need my name tag to know who I am. They share stories of their lives, their families and the community while paying for their goods. I’ve watched how the Co-op functions as a well-run business without abusing the needs of its employees. I’ve learned about environmentally conscious products, the benefits of fresh produce, and how fortunate we are to have such access when most communities do not. I’ve helped make meals for those in need. I have participated in great events designed to give back to those with whom we live and work and to foster a rich sense of community. By working so closely with people, I’ve leaned how to meet strangers and put them at ease, to carry on conversations about any subject and to bond with people of all ages and backgrounds.
People who are the most passionate about Swarthmore rave about the small-town atmosphere, the safety, the passion of its residents for what they believe in, its inclusiveness and collaborative spirit. The Co-op embodies all of those attributes. It gave me the opportunity to experience and to embrace all that is good about this town. Just as the Co-op is owned by its members, I will carry with me a little bit of every Swarthmore neighbor as I embark on a new venture.