Since 1992, Willy Street Co-op has furnished $313,000 in grants from our Community Reinvestment Fund to nonprofits and cooperatives making a difference in the quality of food, land, and life in Madison and the Dane County region. Funding supports developmental and educational projects or events that are consistent with Willy Street Co-op’s mission and global ends policies, specifically programs related to food, nutrition, cooperatives, sustainable agriculture, health and well-being, and social change. Community Reinvestment Fund grants are made possible via our Board of Directors, whom allocate an annual portion of unclaimed, donated, and abandoned membership equity the Co-op retains and repurposes for educational and charitable endeavors. In 2014 alone, the Community Reinvestment Fund Grant Review Committee (comprised of seven Co-op members) awarded $30,000 total to 18 organizations from a pool of 37 proposals.
Grants are fully funded by Willy Street Co-op. Each year, a mailing is sent to any Co-op member who still has equity in the Co-op, but whose accounts have remained inactive for over a year. Once contacted, those members then have the option to renew their membership by either making an equity payment, withdrawing the equity, or by donating it to the Community Reinvestment Fund. After three years, unclaimed or abandoned equity also rolls over into the Fund. All membership equity retained for the Fund is kept in a trust with the Twin Pines Foundation. Oversight of disbursement is provided by our Board of Directors, upon recommendation from a committee of seven grant review committee participants. In the past several years, the Board has increased annual grant allocations from $25,000 to $30,000 due to program popularity and greater competition for funding.
The Community Reinvestment Fund primarily focuses on providing grants to local, nonprofit and cooperative groups with limited access to funding. Priority is given to organizations working on projects benefiting the Madison and Middleton metropolitan areas (where our two stores are located) that promote food, nutrition, cooperatives, sustainable agriculture, health and well-being, and social change. Members of minority and protected classes are strongly encouraged to apply for funding.
This program grows as our membership grows. Since 2009, the total amount allocated annually has increased from $13,000-$30,000, with an average of 18 organizations funded from 41 applications. Grants are capped at $4,000, in order to ensure diversified funding for a variety of community projects. Upon receiving a grant, the organization or its fiscal sponsor is required to sign a contract stating the grant amount, what the funding is allocated for, that their nonprofit or cooperative status has been verified, and that they will submit reporting as follows: at least one photo with a brief description of how the photo relates to the project, a short report detailing how funds were spent and the resulting progress or benefits. We ask funded organizations to consider the following: who benefited from the project and how, what unusual stories or fulfilling relationships were developed in the process, whether the project will continue or has influenced future programming for the organization, and how community members can become more involved with the project or the organization. Organizations are also asked to send any publicity regarding the project to the Co-op for file as well. We measure success based upon reporting and observation. Cooperative Principle #7, Concern for the Community, drives the efforts of the Community Reinvestment Fund. We see the grant program as an opportunity for the Co-op and its members to take part in the bigger picture, and demonstrate our commitment to what we can do to make things better.
Anya Firszt, our General Manager, says, “Seven principles guide all co-ops; the seventh one directs us to have 'concern for community.' I am proud that our Co-op is able to award grants to numerous local nonprofit organizations each year so that they are able to complete some truly amazing projects and make our community a better place to live."
The Community Reinvestment Fund supports a wide variety of community projects related to healthy living and sustainability. We are proud to work with Willy Street Co-op to support healthy immigrant families through our English for Health program. The Fund supports adult learners becoming more familiar with healthy nutrition practices. With field trips to the Co-op and elsewhere, the class provides a rich learning environment through group and individual activities in the kitchen, store and at home. Customized curriculum developed and delivered by an experienced, trained English as a Second instructor focuses on nutrition knowledge, healthy recipes, reading skills for food labels, and language activities that involve the whole family in shopping, cooking and staying healthy. Students learn verbal and written English skills to complete shopping assignments, prepare food in class and at home, and develop individual and family healthy eating plans. -Jeff Burkhart, Executive Director, Literacy Network of Dane County