The Value of Co-Ops

at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

J playing at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

I belong to two co-operative organizations. One is a grocery store and credit union, and the other is a toy lending library and play space. My sister-in-law once belonged to a preschool co-op, and my favorite Mexican restaurant ever, Casa Nueva in Athens, Ohio, is a worker’s co-op. Per Wikipedia, a co-operative is “an association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit.”

The grocery co-op I belong to is a consumer’s co-op, giving customers better buying power for healthier foods. I can find so many of the healthy foods we’ve become accustomed to there, as well as supporting local farmers and businesses since they try to source as much local food as possible. Not to mention their bulk section helps us use less packaging! They also offer financial services through their credit union co-op, but I’ve not tried it out.

The toy library co-op is actually pretty unique in this country; for children birth through kindergarten it offers a great play space and a library of over 300 toys that parents can check out. It happens to be an all-volunteer co-op, meaning that it is entirely staffed and run by volunteers like me (full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors).

Both of these co-ops have membership costs. The grocery co-op is $100 for a lifetime membership, and I pay $35 yearly for the toy co-op, which is a discounted rate in exchange for volunteering two times each month.

Both of these co-ops offer a tangible benefit–lower prices on local, healthy groceries and toy lending and play privileges.

But their biggest benefit is probably the community  they create and sustain. They offer their members the opportunity to get as involved as they like in the organization, ranging from using only the tangible benefits up to serving on a board of directors. It’s an opportunity to influence local policy, widen your circle of friends and network, beef up a resume, learn new skills, or gain experience owning a business, all while doing something that benefits the other members, too.

Whenever I can, I always try to support a co-op. The “owners,” whoever they are, are generally always working toward offering something better or different for the community.

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What’s your experience with co-ops?

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