Remarks from Our Community Engagement Manager at the Member-Owner Meeting

Leandra Nichola

Hello everyone – I’m Leandra – the store’s Community Engagement Manager. I have the very best job at the Co-op because I get to do a little bit of everything. I am a liaison between customers, owners, local vendors, and the store, supporting staff in responding to stakeholder needs and wants. I plan and operationalize events and campaigns that get folks involved at the Co-op. I show up at events all over town to reach out to folks who might not have ever tried shopping at the store or who are curious about how the store has changed since over the years. I get to form and nurture partnerships with local community groups and give away money and food to support big and small non-profit events and causes in the Takoma Park area. And, I also put together our publications, email blasts, social media, and web content. It keeps me busy and I couldn’t be happier about it. But, I’m not here today just to make you jealous of my job. I am here to share all kinds of good news and give you some insight into what’s ahead this year.

So, our Co-op, along with more than 150 food co-ops around the country, is part of National Co+op Grocers (NCG) – an umbrella co-op that provides buying power, as well as branding and marketing support to participating food co-ops. NCG has been doing a bunch of research and has put together some new customer messaging that is just the right fit TPSS Co-op:

“Welcome to the table.”

This year, we have done a whole lot of welcoming folks to the physical and metaphorical table and it’s really at the heart of what we want to do going forward. There are a few key tables we’re focused on welcoming folks to.

The first is the household table. This year, we’ve welcomed our shoppers to a table with more local options than ever, supporting almost 200 local vendors (15 of which are within 2 miles of the store!). We’ve made it easy for them to try the new items on the shelf with more than 150 demos and tastings. We’ve also worked hard to tighten our margins, focus on bringing in value items, offer produce deals, and roll out our participation in the Co-op Basics program so that more people can put healthful, natural foods on their table. 

Co-op owners share a table too, and we want to welcome you all to be active participants at that table. To do this, we’re responsive to suggestions – whether it’s a new item on the shelf or moving a parking space or changing something on our website – we value owner input. We are also asking for more interaction from owners – asking whether they want receipts, surveying them about which poker chip charities they want to support this year, or asking folks to join a committee or write a blog piece.   

Another table we’re welcoming people to is our own community table, which many times looks a little more like a parking lot than a table. Our Thursdays @ The Co-op 25-week-long concert series brought together hundreds of neighbors, dozens of musicians and community groups, as well as a few food trucks. Our annual Earth Day Event was similar, but all in one day! Other smaller events throughout the year invite people to be part of the TPSS Co-op table.

Finally, we know that we have a seat at a much bigger table – that of the Takoma Park community. And, we want community groups and causes to know that we are a resource, ready and willing to support their important work that makes our City the amazing place to live and work and play in that it is. This year, we donated more than $12,000 in money and in-kind gifts to local groups and gave another $2,000 to local charities through the Poker Chip Charities program. We’ve lent out this great space to community groups for their big events. And, we have partnered with Kokua Foods in their food distribution program for food insecure families in Takoma Park, hosting two pop-up distributions at the store. 

This coming year, we know all these tables will continue to grow. Watch for the makings of a local vendor network, a kid-centered Co-op Explorer’s program, more educational opportunities (one coming up next month to make your own Thanksgiving Centerpiece!), new ways to get involved, like joining our Zero Waste Team, paperless ownership sign-ups and so much more. It’s going to be another productive year and I feel so lucky to be part of it. Thank you all for your support – we really couldn’t do it without you.