Co-op donates nationwide high of $110,000

by Abby Mihaly | 1/16/18 2:05am

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Source: Courtesy of Allan Reetz

The Hanover Cooperative Community Fund is the first of 45 similar Co-op funds in the nation to donate more than $100,000 to local charities. Members of the Co-op were surprised and humbled by the milestone, reached in late December 2017.

“All of a sudden one day we looked up and said, ‘Oh! We’ve given away $100,000!’” Hanover Co-op director of public relations Allan Reetz said.

By the end of 2017, the fund had donated $110,000 to nonprofits in the Upper Valley, since its first donation in 2005.

The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, which offers grants to cooperatives, collaborated with the Hanover Co-op in 2000 to start the fund when each provided $5,000 of initial donations. Fundraising events — such as annual golf tournaments — and product sales add anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 each year to the fund.

The fund, managed by Twin Pines, has $442,233 invested in cooperative projects. In addition, the Co-op donates earned interest — around 3 percent — to local organizations. The fund is expected to donate $14,000 to charities in 2018.

A review committee, consisting of eight board and staff members, decides how to allocate the funds in accordance with the Co-op’s four charitable giving goals: food access, community development, cooperative business education and sustainable and environmental issues. This year, there were 15 applications for funding and the Co-op was able to provide at least partial funding for seven of them, according to former director of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society and current Co-op board member Harrison Drinkwater.

Cooperative societies, otherwise known as co-ops, are owned by their members. Though there are no dividend shares, members share in any end-of-year surpluses. There are seven cooperative principles that global cooperative societies follow, focusing on concern for the community, Reetz said.

President of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation David Thompson explained that the Hanover Co-op’s Community Fund allow community members to feel connected to the community and to the Co-op.

“The Hanover members give their money to the fund, we then reinvest that fund in New Hampshire, in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund [for example], and somebody living in a [mobile-home] park borrows money, and that money comes from Hanover Co-op members,” Thompson said.

The programs act as a circle of collaborative commerce, building off of one another, Reetz added.

Chris Rhim, an Upper Valley community member, said that the Co-op is a “vital economic engine that brings together producers and customers for locally produced goods.”

The Co-op connects community members with locally grown food and other products and helps keep these local farms afloat, also acting as an integral part of the community beyond its role as a grocery store, according to Rhim.

Thompson added that food co-ops have a special role in community outreach because of the in-person contact people have with grocery stores and the frequency with which they visit them.

“We are inherently connected with the greater community,” Reetz said. “We have 24,000 members [who] live ... [and] work around here, and they care about the region.

In addition to directing the Co-op’s interest in local organizations, the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation also reinvests in local cooperative funds. The organization is the largest investor in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which helps mobile-home park residents buy the land beneath their homes.

Buying the land on which they live is the best way for residents to ensure the “financial control” that comes with property ownership, Reetz said.

The Co-op also donates to local communities through Pennies for Change. Co-op cashiers ask store patrons whether they would like to round up their sales total, and in doing so, donate their change to a local charity. The program raises about $20,000 per month. Three local food access organizations — Willing Hands, the Upper Valley Haven and LISTEN — receive a majority of the funds, leaving about a third for a different local organization each month, according to Drinkwater.

One recipient of the Pennies for Change fund was Ledyard Charter School, a public high school in Lebanon with a mission focus on experiential learning.

Ledyard Charter School serves as an “alternative public high school” for about 40 members of surrounding towns, who “for whatever reason, have not thrived in their local high schools,” according to Rhim, who serves as the chair of the Ledyard Charter School.

Similar to many schools and organizations in the area, the school struggles to find enough funding. It receives about $6,200 per student from the state of New Hampshire, which is around $4,000 short of the price of the $10,000 cost of supporting a student at the high school, Rhim said. The school applied for Pennies for Change funding and received over $7,000. Rhim added that the school is considering applying for more Co-op funds in the future.

“We know that [these types of programs aid in] building community and improving lives, and that just makes the whole community stronger,” Reetz said. “So why not do it?”

The Hanover Co-op also helps other cooperatives, extending the communal focus beyond the Upper Valley. When the Littleton Food Co-op in Littleton, New Hampshire was having managerial trouble prior to opening, the Hanover Co-op fronted its advertising budget and sent staff members to help manage the budget, shelve items and recommend the best equipment model, Reetz said.

While this kind of help may not be profitable for the Co-op, Reetz said it is what it means to be a cooperative.

“This isn’t typical business,” he said. “This is what cooperatives are supposed to do.”

Thompson said he thinks the Hanover Co-op is one of the best and most prominent co-ops in the country.

“If you get the Hanover Co-op to do something in the United States, lots of other co-ops then pay attention,” he said. “It’s got to be a dream job when the people that you’re working with are raising another $25 to 30,000 a year and want to do good in their communities. For me, Hanover is an immaculately conceived co-op.”