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Communities in Partnership Food Co-op

On the second Thursday of each month at 2 pm, volunteers begin to sort fresh, in-season produce at the Communities in Partnership (CIP) Food Co-operative. Potatoes, squash, berries, and apples are stacked high on folding tables. Bread, cereal, fresh meat, and toiletries may also be among the offerings. From 6–8 pm, members of the co-op can pick up their share.

Partnering with a local food bank, local food producers, and a local food distributor, CIP opened the co-op in Old East Durham in May 2017 as a food resource centered on principles of local ownership, community accountability, and individual dignity. The co-op addresses a need in Old East Durham and the surrounding community, where many residents struggle to feed their families fresh, healthful meals. Lack of economic resources is part of the problem. 35% of community members live below the poverty line, including nearly 2,500 children. The neighborhood has few full-service grocery stores, and many community members do not have access to a vehicle.  

All REAL Durham Leaders are members of the co-op and give their time to help run it. Veronica and Clarence Terry, REAL Durham Leaders and CIP organizers, have been instrumental in the set-up and operations. Veronica volunteers eight to 12 hours each month, acquiring, sorting, and organizing fresh food for distribution among her neighbors. She says that participants are very grateful to have this food and that it helps with their grocery bill. 

Community members pay a $5/month investment to become an owner of the store and volunteer a minimum of once a month to set up and distribute food on Co-Op Day. Ownership in the store entitles participants to at least $400 worth of food and other store items monthly. All store owners make governing decisions to determine how the market can best serve the community, including working with producers to decide what items are stocked. Often members will share a meal on the night of the co-op and host a guest who speaks on a topic of interest to the group.

Within months of starting, the co-op reached its initial capacity. Currently, the co-op has a membership of more than 80 households, with more than 60 additional households on a waiting list and more added monthly. Efforts are underway to fulfill the requests of households on the waitlist and to add two Co-Op Days per month: a second evening and a weekday time to accommodate those who have difficulty coming at night. As the store grows, it will provide more people access not only to fresh food, but also to new leadership and work opportunities in their neighborhood.

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