When the cupboard's bare, volunteer here

October 03, 2001 12:00 am
Member andvolunteer Carol Ford restocked bulk bins Tuesday morning. Foodco-ops always seem to offer foods in bulk, but there is much more available throughout the store. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Member andvolunteer Carol Ford restocked bulk bins Tuesday morning. Foodco-ops always seem to offer foods in bulk, but there is much more available throughout the store. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Terry Cahill grew up in rural Vermont, where she worked, among other jobs, as an accountant for a cooperative cannery.

So when it came time to move to the left coast, Cahill was looking for a place with a true sense of community where people make eye contact with you, where theres a nice pathway you can walk on.

Someplace like Baker City the home of the Baker Food Co-Op on 10th Street, where Cahill is the manager and only paid staffer.

The truth is, Cahill had originally settled on Jacksonville and, later, considered living in Ontario, where she made an offer on a farm this summer. But before the deal was closed, the farm owner began outlining the problems she saw with her community and the advantages to living in Baker City.

In fact, Im going there today, the woman told Cahill. Why dont you come along?

A week later, Cahill owned a home in Baker City, and has managed the cooperative since August 1.

This place is very much the same as rural Vermont, she said. I just kept looking until I found a home.

She says shes found a home at the co-op, too, a place that boasts 7,000 members from all over a two-county area.

Instead of hiring employees to do the regular work required at a grocery store stocking shelves, minding the register, taking inventory members volunteer their time in exchange for discounts at the store.

All the food is labeled with a price that reflects the co-ops cost. Members who volunteer two hours per month pay 10 percent over cost. Those who work four hours pay half that, and people who work six hours or more or who work in positions that require a high level of commitment, such as Brandon Svitak, who keeps the store open on Saturday get their groceries at cost.

Theres lots of work to be done. Cahill figures volunteers put in at least 10 hours per day and do everything from slicing large wheels of cheese to data input.

I think this is a great community project, said co-op member Pearl Jones, who was working with Laura Hayse Tuesday morning at the front register. Its open to anybody who wants to belong. It has produce as fresh as any youd find at a farmers market.

And you can order anything youd want out of our catalogs, Hayse added.

All the meat is in one freezer, but the produce section at the co-op is more substantial, and the eggs are fresh off the farm, Cahill says.

They also have a short shelf life.

Theyre gone within half an hour, Cahill says.

But what the facility boasts in spades is bulk foods. The Boise Co-op donated four large display cases, which are being installed as time and volunteer availability permit. And the herbs and spices are both fresh and plentiful.

Bulk food is received in huge sacks and stored in a small warehouse. The stock is rotated in by, of course, volunteers.

Theres also a large section of vitamins and homeopathic items, which is maintained by longtime member Betty Carter.

Cahill says that members enjoy their volunteer hours because they get to socialize as they work. Signs near the cash register remind customers that their co-op features an intimacy that many larger retail outlets cant offer.

A sign on a small jar containing a few bills and coins reads, If you nibble, please dribble your spare cents here. Its designed for customers who like to sample what theyre considering buying.

Or this sign, hung by one of the co-ops many volunteers: I only work here because Im too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security, and too tired to have an affair.

A lifetime family membership at the co-op costs $10. The store is open 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Saturday. The phone number is 523-6281.