With great concern for our staff as the COVID pandemic intensified, the Cooperative Development Institute’s Executive Director, Noemi Giszpenc, took a strong stance early on this year by promoting a culture of safety in our organization and urging staff to shift training and visits online. A month after Maine became the 43rd state to have a positive COVID-19 case, it was evident that things were getting worse in the northeast. With health and safety as our utmost priority, our Cooperative Business Services team started exploring the possibility of donating Personal Protection Equipment to some of our clients in food processing, production, and retail.
What started as a small effort, sprouting out of concern for some of our immigrant and POC-led co-ops, morphed into a larger scale project allowing us to donate gloves, hand sanitizer, liquid hand soap, and both reusable and disposable masks to 16 client organizations located in Maine and Massachusetts. We have joined forces with co-ops and other organizations across the northeast to get these products where they are needed. Despite logistical barriers and supply shortages we have collaborated wildly with mostly local organizations such as Fare Share Co-op in Norway, Maine, American Roots in Westbrook, Maine, and River Valley Co-op in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The USDA supported us in this effort by approving the reallocation of funds, giving us the ability to continue to support our clients’ needs. As the demand for PPE products persists for an uncertain amount of time, CDI has continued to work with our clients to try and fill their needs. This pandemic has been hard for many of us, but there is a spark of hope and resilience in the people we meet, a sense of opportunity for change. Our clients are hard-working, innovative people injecting strength into collaboration networks, displaying a heartwarming drive to move forward as inclusive and resilient organizations.
In the midst of implementing our initiative CDI witnessed many of these same community groups developing their own creative community responses to the pandemic. We saw Spoke Folks, a worker-owned cargo-bike cooperative in the Norway/South Paris area of Maine jump into action providing emergency delivery services for local food pantries and businesses. We saw Isuken, the Somali-Bantu food truck, and New Roots Farm in Lewiston-Auburn prepare meal giveaways for members of the local mosque and surrounding community. We saw the Norway Community Food Works Program led by the Community Food Matters Food Council arrange to bring prepared meals to those in rural poverty while providing labor opportunities for those recently unemployed. We saw this and so many other heartening examples of cooperative community problem-solving.
CDI remains grateful for having had the opportunity to step up and help implement community solutions in this difficult time. We also remain grateful to all of our clients, collaborators, and partners for creating this inclusive network of care, support, strength, and cooperative resilience along with us.
(For those who can, please consider buying PPE equipment from Black-owned cooperatives or buy them in bulk to support manufacturers of color. Additional details can be found here.)
Written by Emmy Anderson, Cooperative Business Developer &
Tory Rosen, Communications & Development Specialist