Grace & Groceries 3: Are you willing to give cooperation a chance?

3 puzzle pieces THIS WEEK, our guest writer is Lynne Meredith Schreiber, a community innovator
whose stories describe a feeding program that may interest you wherever
you live. (Read: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.)

By Lynne Meredith Schreiber

3 puzzle pieces come together How much is America driven by competition—and how much potential do we have for cooperation? Read today’s story and the question at the end—then, tell us what you think.
    We’ve been telling the story of a model program in which a regional grocery chain is working with congregations to market quality food at a less-than-market price in tough times. Just as our program was getting started, organizer Allan Adler sent me an email:
    “The need is so great within the areas we serve because of the continuing impacts of layoffs and salaried job cuts,” he wrote. “We really want to grow what we can do. We were contacted by a meat packing house in Eastern Market about working with us. They are capable of creating a range of products, including working with their neighbor businesses to create a produce box – fresh fruits and vegetables – that we would like to offer in June in addition to the basic menu that Hiller’s supports.”
    “We would only do this if Hiller’s is OK with it. We could serve a lot more people – we might be able to direct other churches interested in starting programs similar to Grace Groceries. We have had contact from four churches so far that have learned what we are doing and would like to replicate it in their churches.”
    Community is the antithesis of competition. Hiller’s response was automatic: “Of course it’s ok,” he said, knowing one company could not possibly satisfy the needs of a population defined now by dissolution, despair and fear. Hiller’s launched the effort, created the model, and now it was time to pass the torch to others and turn competitors into colleagues in an effort to do good, even as we all try to do well.
    When I was beginning my career in the early 1990s, set on a journalist’s path and naïve as the green, green summer fields, I learned what have become life lessons from a mentor. Susan Shapiro’s words paved the way for me to accomplish as much as I set my sights on. She said:
    1.) There is enough of what you want to go around.
    2.) Don’t be so cocky that you think you’re everyone’s competition.
    3.) Don’t fear the red pen. A more experienced person can see my mistakes when I can’t.
    4.) And, if you don’t take a risk, you’ll never get close to achieving your dream.

    So what do you think of this core value in our model?
    Americans love competition—from sports to success in the marketplace, video games to investment strategies—on and on. What’s our potential to shift gears and try cooperation?
    Is it a good idea? Is it even possible?
    What barriers prevent cooperation? Tell us what you think.

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