Co-op changes aim to help those in need


GREAT BARRINGTON>> The Berkshire Co-op Market wants to make sure seniors and those in need can afford good, healthy food — and it wants to make it easy.

The market is changing its senior discount program and starting a new project to provide needs-based food assistance as part of a new focus on providing access to healthy food for the public, said General Manager Daniel Esko.

"Over the years, the co-op realized that good food was less accessible to those in need in our community," he said. "So we're taking steps forward to address that."

The first step is establishing the HELP program — Healthy Eats for Lower Prices — to give an across-the-board 10 percent discount for those who meet the standard of needs-based assistance.

If you think that sounds like a lot of paperwork, think again.

"We knew there would be problems with proof of eligibility," he said. "So we simplified the process."

In order to sign up for the program, individuals need only provide one piece of information showing any form of public assistance. This could be as simple as a SNAP card or a fuel assistance notice, Esko said. The information will be updated once a year— that's the extent of the process.

"The state already does a lot of this work," he said. "We'll just piggyback on it."

The senior discount program also will be restructured. Currently, seniors who are members, or "owners," of the store receive an automatic 7 percent off every time they shop there.

Come October, any senior shopping at the store on Wednesdays and Sundays will receive a 10 percent discount.

The changes have seen some pushback, Esko said, but from a minority of members.

"Principle 2 of our co-op is democratic member control," he said.

He said the co-op is taking the concerns very seriously and he is answering every complaint personally.

The primary concern, he said, is that under the new plan seniors are limited to the Wednesday and Sunday discount, even though the discount is greater. Seniors who qualify for the HELP program will continue to get a discount every day.

"We felt that a shift toward using income as a basis for discount eligibility creates more social equity," Esko said. "At the end of the day senior co-op owners with limited means will actually benefit more from HELP than their current discount."


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