A Life-changing Experience – Volunteering for the Co-op

On a winter evening, I walk into the brightly lit home and already sense the energy. Greetings ring out from the kitchen where some are already gathering, filling their glasses with sparkling water or wine, placing delectable snacks on the table, and sharing their recent news with one another. As others arrive, the jovial noise in the room increases. Soon, Joy claps her hands together and calls out, “Let’s get down to business, shall we?” Slowly the chatter quiets down as people take their seats around the table, still glowing from the conversation, invigorated to start the meeting. The next ninety or so minutes bring lively discussion, idea-generating, lighthearted banter, and much collaboration. This is the membership (newly dubbed outreach and education) committee meeting held once a month, and I look forward to it each time. Who can say that about meetings they attend? But the common cause (to bring our brick and mortar cooperative grocery store to fruition in this community) which brings this group of volunteers together is really what motivates us all, and why participating in this way is so meaningful.

“Even with life as busy as it is, doing a bit to help has given me a chance to understand the Co-op better and get to know terrific people.” – Volunteer and Member-Owner, Nancy Gaies

This committee is just one of five others (including the Co-op Board) actively engaging in the work it takes to get our storefront here. Every time I hear about the wide array of work being accomplished by each one of these groups, I’m overwhelmed. What other business model starts with dozens of dedicated volunteers doing the heavy lifting from concept to getting doors opened? Cooperative grocery businesses need many volunteer hands on deck in the financially lean months and years it takes to open. Once off the ground, grocery co-ops employ workers just as any other business, providing better wages and benefits than most conventional grocery stores. But now is the time for volunteering. And we are so grateful for the many who have already offered their time and talent.

“I volunteer my time and effort towards the food co-op because I support the goal of having locally grown healthy food sources available to our friends, family and neighbors in the Cedar Valley.” –Volunteer and Member-Owner, Jim Sprau

As we turn our sights toward 2020, we take a moment to recognize and marvel at last year’s almost 3000 hours of volunteer time from a monthly average of 32 individuals (well over 100 total volunteers over the year). Activities run the gamut from committee work to one-time help at a Co-op booth or event. We also have volunteers doing behind-the-scenes work organizing our files, managing our website, creating social media posts, and even working on this newsletter. And to all who have given one or many more hours to this cause, I heartily thank you! We truly cannot do this without you.

“No one has endless time so it’s important to me that my time with work, family or other responsibilities is respected, and it is here, which inspires me to give it my all to my commitments with the Co-op.” – Board Member, Kate Dunning

Time is a precious commodity, but many of our volunteers discover that they benefit just as much as the Co-op does through their volunteer work. Karin Leonard, another proud member-owner and volunteer finds that the Co-op provides her with “an opportunity to engage in my community while giving me a sense of purpose, and most importantly, a way to express my faith in the future of my community.” And Luann Alemao-Johnson (also a dedicated volunteer and member-owner) has encountered “like-minded people who care about where and what they eat,” and ends up immersed in countless “conversations with people about food, environment, and building community.”

When the work on this Co-op started, after only a few months, a volunteer surprised me when she revealed that the short time she had spent with people working on the Co-op had already provided her with more sense of community than she’d yet experienced over several years living in this area. I am reminded of this often when I’m attending a Co-op-related event, meeting, or other activity. With her words in my head, I look around the space, observing new connections happening as well as old ones being cultivated, and I know this Co-op is already changing the landscape of this region. Just think how much more it will do once we have our store.

I would recommend this volunteer experience because it’s invigorating to be a part of something that isn’t easy, but completely achievable by way of cooperation and sharing skills. That’s all this is, and for some it’s just a little sharing and for some it’s more, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other because it’s the collective work that’s transforming vision into reality, and that’s happening right now! – Board Member, Kate Dunning

If you haven’t yet, please join us as a volunteer. You can give us one hour of your time or much more – it is all needed and appreciated. To learn more, come to our volunteer affair on January 22 at the Cedar Falls Public Library from 6 – 8 p.m. We’ll help you match your interests as well as provide pertinent Co-op background so you feel informed for the work ahead.

Melanie Drake
Outreach Coordinator

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