Food. It has long been a source of gathering and community, a silent facilitator of relationships and celebration. In fact, we as a nation, just celebrated one of our most beautiful reflections of these very things, Thanksgiving! Aside from all that yummy Turkey, the tradition is an expression of gratitude and a time to gather in unity. It offers us a moment to prepare our hearts in “giving-thanks” for all we have, while extending our gifts to those less fortunate too. In reminiscing on the holiday, I’m reminded of an organization whose mission fits so well with the idea of Thanksgiving. Urban Recipe is a natural extension of what we’ve been learning - how to “help without hurting”.
Urban Recipe is a food co-op which emulates the model of “helping without hurting” through their emphasis on “food security + dignity + community”.
How does the co-op work?
Each member contributes a $4 programming fee each time they visit the co-op. They also help unload the food from the delivery truck and then sort it. Essentially, families who participate in the co-op are an integral part of keeping the co-op running, and while they receive food, are not just recipients of the food. At first, some new members are hesitant to join in the responsibilities that are so new to them, but they quickly fall into roles, helping each other sort the food. This participation first builds dignity, because each member has to contribute in order to receive. They are needed - The food simply won’t unload itself, right? 🙂
Secondly, they build a sense of community through working together in fellowship. At the end of the food sort, they have a meeting ran by the co-op members. This portion is run however they’d like and members often lead different activities, such as: singing, announcements, fellowship, prayer, or even occasional potlucks! Over time, they build relationships, supporting each other and taking part in each other’s joys.
See the theme of Thanksgiving coming through?
Members build relationships, celebrate each other, and develop a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to take part in their own food security (while serving each other too) - and it’s all done around the silent facilitator of food!
Members come every other week throughout the year and thus, the program becomes a reliable food source for them. As a member of the co-op, they no longer have to travel from food bank to food bank, carefully scheduling their trips around the allotted number of times each bank will serve them throughout the year.
In order for the process to work, co-ops need to have a good food bank network that can continually serve as a reliable source of food for their operations. The Atlanta Community Food Bank provides 80% of Urban Recipe’s food in exchange for a “share maintenance fee”. The other 20% comes from local sources such as: Second Helpings, Costco, and restaurants. Of course, the Atlanta Community Food Bank first needs to receive the food themselves before distributing it, and they do so from local grocery store donations.
Aside from preserving dignity and building community, the financial value of the co-op is significant in families’ lives. Each family receives $3,500-5,500 worth of food each year and comparatively, the annual average family income for members is under $12,000.
Conversations around the table:
I had the privilege of visiting a co-op and meeting with Urban Recipe’s Executive Director, Jeremy Lewis. He’s studied community development and public policy for many years, focusing on asset-based community development. His belief is that “Real change always happens within the context of relationships”. This is indeed exactly what I witnessed, as I sat down with some of the members to hear about their involvement. One told me she wears at least three hats within the organization and she jokingly said she does “everything”. She said everyone keeps telling her what a good job she does and keeps asking her to do more, so she does!
I also had the opportunity to meet the Director of Food Co-ops who originally joined Urban Recipe as a co-op member. She shared how she took the opportunity to be involved with the program and worked all the way to coordinating the food for other families. She was one of the most sincere and energetic people I’ve ever met. With a lot of life and passion, she told me she loves what she does and will work anytime of the day, because it gives her so much fulfillment. As I looked around, I saw people smiling and laughing with each other. Kids were helping sort food too!
To me, this is what “thanksgiving” is all about - uniting together and gratefully giving back some of what you’ve received.
Want to learn more?
- Visit an Urban Recipe co-op or attend a training workshop.
- Food Security of America has co-ops around the U.S. for those interested outside of Atlanta.
- Don’t forget to refer a friend in need to a co-op near you!
Did you know?
A feast-famine cycle often occurs when an individual feeds their family first and goes hungry themselves for the last 4-5 days of the month until payday. In this process, their body’s metabolism shuts down and stores fat because it’s in a famine. This is why someone may look like they eat a lot, when in reality, their body may be undergoing cycles of famine. Further, this also explains how starved a person truly is when they appear starved, because that means their body has used the fat stores too.
Food stamps and free school lunches are helpful subsidies for struggling families. Yet, in order to be on government programs, they can only have $2,000 in savings and can’t exceed a certain income threshold or they lose access to those programs. For some families, a co-op provides the opportunity to start moving past this wage-benefit gap by reducing the need for government food programs!