A labor of community love ten years in the making

Bread breaking and grand opening of the South Philly Food Co-op
Albert Yee

South Philly is home to many citywide favorites, and now Philadelphians can head to the home-grown neighborhood to check out a true labor of love from that community. The South Philly Food Co-op opened its doors at the end of 2020 after a decade of efforts from community members and is offering locals a way to give back deliciously.

“We are the only community-owned grocery store in South Philly and that means community is at the heart of everything we do,” says Lori Burge, General Manager of South Philly Food Co-op. “We continually evolve our products, programs, and services to reflect the desires and needs of our neighborhood. And we strive to keep money at home. By leveraging our combined purchasing power, we’re taking ownership of our local economy by keeping our hard-earned dollars here.”

The Co-op’s mission is to “use food as a force for good,” and the establishment tries to weave that mission through everything they do.

“We constantly try to make meaningful contributions to a thriving community and a sustainable planet through the power of food,” adds Burge. “We prioritize supporting local and regional food makers, and we celebrate them with special signage throughout our store. We primarily offer certified organic and sustainable products and we support businesses that avoid excess packaging, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, genetically modified ingredients, and artificial colors and flavors.”

The equity attached to member-ownership is $300 and may be divided in as many as 12 installments if needed. According to Burge, there are also plenty of economic, democratic, and societal reasons to invest in the Co-op as well. Members and owners are a part of something bigger, as the Co-op’s work
centering around food justice and social equity in our local food system is their main focus. Plus, member-owners collectively own and operate the Co-op together—they can run for a seat on the Board of Directors and they have a vote in Board Elections and bylaws changes.

Lastly, the financial draw leaves an impression.

“Member-owners can save money with owner specials, owner appreciation days, discounts at over 40 local businesses via our Shop South Philly program, and potentially in the future, patronage refunds. This is where a portion of the Co-op’s profits are distributed back to member-owners dependent on the Co-op’s financial health,” explains Berge.

Those interested can also join SPFC through their Community Equity Fund which, like the new store, serves as a community hub to provide South Philly residents of all income levels access to fresh, local, and sustainable groceries.

“This is a program we’re very proud of,” says Burge. “If someone in our community doesn’t have the means to join as a member-owner, the Community Equity Fund makes member-ownership accessible by bringing the minimum equity investment down to just $5 at the time of registration. Member-owners would determine for themselves the total amount of equity they can invest over a five year period and choose a monthly or yearly payment plan that works for their budget. At the end of the five-year plan, the Co-op subsidizes the remaining balance of up to $275 of the $300 equity investment. We consistently invite our member-owners to donate toward our Community Equity Fund to do our best to ensure that there is enough funding for everyone interested.”

Albert Yee

With ten years of effort under the community’s belt, trying to open the storefront during a pandemic has brought in its own set of challenges.

“This was a challenge. First off, we had to re-envision what community organizing looked like in pandemic-times. Then there were the delays. Our community was expecting us to open last spring. Everything took longer to ensure that our construction workers and staff were safe throughout the whole process. Some equipment and even grocery products were also difficult to get due to the pandemic,” says Burge. “In order to serve our community while we navigated these delays, we opened an online store with pick-up and delivery options. The online store also helped us scale up to similar offerings once our retail store opened. Like other small businesses, we had to raise additional funding, add additional equipment and technology, and employ additional protocols and safeguards. We are proud of the fact that we were able to open our store amidst these challenges. We are so grateful for all the supporters, volunteers, member-owners, board members, and staff who helped along the way. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Additionally,  according the release, the co-op has many local items on their online store including produce boxes from Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op, breads, desserts, bulk items and more, available to purchase ahead of the Co-op’s grand opening. All items listed are available for pickup at the Bok Building.

“Everyone is welcome to shop at South Philly Food Co-op. You don’t t have to be a member-owner to shop here. We are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily on Juniper right off McKean, near the Broad Street line, and just 1 block from Passyunk Ave,” says Burge.

However, the General Manager finishes on a social and economic note following the mission of the SPFC itself.

“Social and economic justice is at the core of all we do. We work hard to meet the needs of consumers, farmers/producers, and co-op staff. This store belongs to our community and so reflecting and serving our whole community is central to our work.

“Our Food Justice and Equity Committee meets monthly to support our efforts. They helped launch our Community Equity Fund, supported the development of our Everyday Basics program, and pounded the pavement prior to the pandemic to help make sure our whole community knows that this store is for everyone,” says Burge. “Over the coming months you will see the launch of many programs that will support this mission like our Round Up at the Register program and more. In 2020 we donated thousands of dollars in groceries to community members in need and we look forward to doing more in this regard. But more than that, social and economic justice means stepping back and analyzing our role in the food system and how we can really truly “use food as a force for good” for our whole community.”

Albert Yee

To learn more about the SPFC (2031 S. Juniper St.), visit southphillyfood.coop