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Voices / Letters from readers

Co-op furthers a community-wide initiative against addiction, poverty

RE: “A direct negative impact on our economic sustainability” [Open Letter, May. 29]:

Over the course of the past few years, the town of Brattleboro has seen an unfortunate rise in addiction and poverty, affecting many of our lives.

We at the Co-op have experienced this firsthand, as addiction has deeply affected our staff, family, and friends.

The experience of walking in downtown Brattleboro is not unlike that in many other towns and cities. From Greenfield to Burlington to Bennington, we are seeing and feeling the same effects of an economic, political, and health-care system that is broken, which makes folks turn to the street.

In recent months, we as a Co-op have tried to show leadership when we can as a response to what is presenting itself here in our town.

People who are struggling and in need of support are often overcome by demons in their search for ways to cope. We at the Co-op feel a need to try and be a part of positive change that can be a way to shift what is happening here and all across the country.

As our Ends Policies state, we are and believe we must be a “welcoming community marketplace,” one that is built on the Cooperative Principle “Concern for Community.”

We are proud of our actions thus far, and we think that it is important to be publicly involved in all of the initiatives that are underway in our community.

We were not among the merchants who authored the anonymous open letter that The Commons printed. Although we understand and appreciate the work that this group, like many others, is pursuing to come up with solutions, we think that public dialogue with clear authorship is important to better further a community-wide initiative.

As we reflect upon our role as an anchor downtown merchant with thousands of employees and customers impacted by the current reality, we feel it is important to reiterate the projects we are involved with, and inform about internal actions we are taking.

The Community Response Project (CRP). As a member of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, we joined the Community Response Project when it formed over a year ago. This project is an informal committee of community members representing local social services, town officials, law enforcement, the downtown businesses, residents, and visitors. This committee is dedicated to discussion, action, and solutions focusing on the intersection of downtown Brattleboro’s diverse community members, safety, sustainability, and vibrancy.

Community Organizing Effort. Another community initiative that brings together core experts from our community to discuss ideas about how to better serve those community members who are, like themselves, affected by poverty, homelessness, and addiction. These folks are hosted in the Brattleboro Food Co-op community room each month, where they enjoy a meal and are paid a stipend for their time.

Restorative Justice. We have seen a distinct increase in theft at the Co-op and, in turn, we have issued many more “no-trespass” orders than we care to serve.

In an effort to support a model of recovery, we are working with the Restorative Justice Center, Brattleboro police, and the state’s attorney’s office to offer options for folks who are caught stealing to join a program to address core causes of their behaviors with community support.

When they successfully complete their contract, they avoid clogging up the court system.

Community sponsorships. Each year, we invest thousands of dollars in Groundworks Collaborative. Through Project Feed the Thousands, our Christmas Tree Sale, Bag-a-Bean program, straight sponsorship dollars, overflow shelter meals, food for the Camp for a Common Cause, weekly bread donations, and even staff and shopper donations we continue to increase our support for those services that support our community.

Investment in facilities and security. Over the past year, we have invested in our team at the Co-op, with a new facilities, maintenance, and security manager, additional shifts in the store, and specific training to support a safe shopping experience.

We have increased our surveillance of our parking lot, and we seek support from you in this endeavor as well. Stop by Shareholder Services and let us know if you are interested.

Training. Partnering with the Women’s Freedom Center, we offered a bystander training for a large portion of our staff. Partnering with our employee assistance program, we offered de-escalation training to many of our staff.

We believe it is important to continue to invest in staff development in as many ways as possible in addition to investing in local nonprofits that support our community. We are stronger together.

Events. Ice Cream Social: On July 27, we will hold our 3rd annual Ice Cream Social on the Whetstone Pathway. This free event welcomes everyone and will feature Vermont Gelato, have kids’ activities, and provide a fun opportunity for you to engage with local family-based organizations such as Groundworks Collaborative, KidsPlayce, Youth Services, Mother Up!, and many more.

We believe that as many positive outdoor social events as possible will help to change the atmosphere of many of our parks and sidewalks, so we urge you to get involved and create some of your own.

Brattleboro is blessed with many cultural experts in art, music, poetry, and so much more who could actively spill out onto our streets with your help.

We hope this is a helpful way to understand how we as a cooperative community care about our physical community.

We will always take a positive approach to solving our issues. We thank you for your support, loyalty, and commitment to the Co-op.

If you’d like to talk more, get involved, or share ideas, please feel free to call or email Jon (JonMR@brattleborofoodcoop.coop; 802-246-2813) or Sabine (SabineR@brattleborofoodcoop.coop; 802-246-2801).

Jon Megas-Russell
Brattleboro

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Originally published in The Commons issue #515 (Wednesday, June 19, 2019). This story appeared on page D3.

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