COVID and Cooperation in NYC: 2020 in Review

Covid-19 has significantly impacted all New Yorkers, but the worst impacts have been among communities that regularly face racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and classism. Low-income people are “essential workers” who must face exposure to the virus to keep society functioning, according to the NY State and NYC governments, who designate what is “essential” and what can be closed down during Covid spikes.

Those who lack immigration documents have also been hit hard, left out of federal and state relief programs such as unemployment insurance benefits, which they have paid into via their taxes but cannot access without documentation. Still others have lost their jobs entirely, and NYC is experiencing escalating homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity as a result. These are the conditions that have propelled cooperatives and solidarity economy groups to action.

Gardens, food, and work, in cooperation

Covid-19 has impacted our regional and national food supply as well, which has consequences for food cooperatives, Community Supported Agriculture, community gardens, and food industry worker cooperatives. Food co-ops, such as Park Slope Food Coop, implemented safety measures that are superior to the standards in corporate grocery stores, and to date just 3 of the staff at NYC’s largest food co-op have contracted the virus. Others, such as Windsor Terrace Food Coop, grew their bottom line while better serving their community by partnering with mutual aid groups to bring more fresh food to no and low-income residents of color, and by offering curbside pick up for their members. (These mutual aid groups are volunteer efforts that provide emergency relief but do not intend to become staffed long-term organizations.)

Community Supported Agriculture received a huge boost from households wishing to avoid grocery stores entirely by purchasing directly from a farmer, and a new generation of volunteers joined those groups as a result. Community gardens have always played a key role in food security in low-income neighborhoods, especially communities of color wishing to maintain agrarian traditions specific to their cultures, and this role continued during the pandemic. Some, such as Phoenix Community Garden in central Brooklyn, have also been able to expand their food box program to provide more fresh foods to elderly Black residents in the neighborhood. Worker co-ops, such as Brooklyn Packers, a grocery packing business, have also seen incredible growth as volunteer mutual aid groups across the borough have begun choosing them as their preferred vendor for sourcing and packing fresh foods to disperse to no income and low income residents. For the mutual aid groups, Packers can replace the volunteer efforts to locate and aggregate food, allowing the volunteers to focus on fundraising to buy the food and drivers to help deliver it. NYC’s mutual aid groups often have socialist or anarchist roots, so they are also eager to support local Black businesses, especially co-ops.

[Read the rest of this article by Cooperative Economics Alliance of NYC on Medium]