Food Co-op in the pipeline for Warren? | News, Sports, Jobs

Shane K. Floyd, pastor of Grace AME Church, talks about the importance of better access to food in Warren and how it would benefit the community during a presentation Tuesday afternoon at the church.

WARREN — Community leaders and residents gathered Tuesday at Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church to discuss what it would take to create a food co-op in the city.

Those attending the meeting heard a presentation by Amaha Sellassie, founder and president of Gem City Market, a community grocery store in Dayton.

Sellassie said the key to the success of these cooperative stores lies in the active participation and ownership of the products by residents and consumers.

“Community ownership is the key” he said. “How can we practice greater self-determination? How can we take responsibility for the things that exist in our community, in our neighborhood, in our neighbourhood, which are all things that are within our realm of possibility.”

Sellassie said the Dayton co-op was created by the community because of the closing of local grocery stores, including its Kroger.

“Our Kroger closed in 2009. … That’s what left most of the west side without a grocery store,” he said. “We now have 40,000 people on the entire West Side and no full-service grocery store.”

Sellassie said the idea for Gem City Market came about at a community meeting in 2015.

He said it took the Dayton Group five to six years to bring the co-op store to fruition. He said the store is a “mixed cooperative” with shareholders including worker-owners and community owners. The store is run by a nine-member board of directors.

“Five of the board members are worker-owners, because you see that if the worker is also an owner, then he has more interest in the company.” he said. “It’s more meaningful to them than just clocking in and going.”

Gem City Market offers several levels of ownership, with shares costing from $10 to $100.

Those present at the meeting, including Warren administration officials, city council members and other community influencers, discussed how such a store could be created in Warren.

Mayor Doug Franklin said a food co-op in Warren would be important to addressing health disparities affecting some city residents due to “Divestment, redlining, you name it.”

“Having a project of this magnitude that could address the issue of food access and also empower the community (would) have an impact on health outcomes,” Franklin said. “Because ultimately that’s what’s driving this whole process, the health disparities that we need to address.”

Franklin said this “health disparities” must be addressed by the community and not always “external influences”.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Honeya Price said she and Sellassie were driving around town when he asked her “Where was the corner grocery store?”

“As we were driving up Parkman Road, all the way down Parkman, if you don’t have a car, it’s a long drive to Sparkle and Giant Eagle,” Price said.

Franklin said when it comes to food co-ops established in other municipalities, cities are not “necessarily the first dollar invested.”

“The city played a catalytic role for unity, but it was the community itself that organized and made it all possible,” he said. “Then public funds just supported that vision. That’s how I see things evolving.”

Sellassie said community members interested in starting a food co-op will likely need to conduct a feasibility study and may have to hire a dedicated project organizer, which would have financial implications.

Sarah Lowry, senior director of community impact at the Mahoning Valley Community Foundation, called the project a “A super exciting opportunity.”

Lowry said the foundation has several funding sources that could potentially support a feasibility study and organizer.

Got a great story to tell? Email Mason Cole at Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @masoncoletrib.

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