Laura Penske

1. Why are you running for the board, and what skill sets do you bring to the table?

I have already been serving on the Board of Directors in an appointed seat for the past seven months. In this short time, I have contributed to the co-op in the following ways:

  1. Obtaining a Fiscal Sponsor so that donations to the Co-op can be tax deductible, which was previously not possible. In some cases, the tax write-off will be more valuable to donors than future repayment at a modest interest rate. This change will be key as our co-op starts its capital campaign. A subcommittee of board members, including myself, have worked to secure a financial sponsor and expect our fiscal sponsorship to be active in October.
  2. Grant writing. I am helping to write multiple grant applications that would help offset the costs of our store design, marketing, and pre-opening staff.
  3. Significant member growth through an event called “Co-op Grow-op”. This event asks current members to invite potential members to attend an evening of food and drink, with a short presentation about cooperative enterprise and our co-op’s progress. The idea was originally developed by OshKosh Food Co-op. The Bethlehem Food Co-op held its first Co-op Grow-op in August, which I organized in conjunction with fellow board member Tracey Werner. Aside from the founders’ picnic at incorporation, this event gained more new member-owners than any other event in our co-op’s history and was also the event with the lowest cost per new member.
  4. Planned and executed the co-op’s Gingerbread House Workshop/Fundraiser. I reserved a location, gathered supplies, made templates and instructions for participants, and even pre- tested the frosting for structural integrity to be sure this event was a success. This event continues to be the most successful board-led fundraiser in the past several years, and was so popular it has been requested that it become an annual tradition.
  5. Co-chairing the Outreach Committee and leading the transition to MOVE (Member Outreach Volunteers and Events) Committee, which combines the former outreach, communications, and education committees. The change allows more efficient communication and collaboration on events, education and messaging/marketing.
  6. Organizing the Kids’ Craft Area at the Co-op’s 5th Annual Craft Fair & Earth Day Festival, which is one of the biggest fundraisers the co-op holds every year. I created and prepared crafts for kids, recruited and organized volunteers to lead the kids’ area, and staffed the table myself.

    What initially drew me to serving on the Bethlehem Food Co-op’s Board of Directors is my passion for food: eating it, cooking it, and growing it! Additionally, I have a masters’ degree from Lehigh University in Environmental Policy Design with a focus on food policy. I also bring work experience as a project manager and in food systems. One of the major needs the board has identified as the co-op moves toward opening is project management, which is a skill I have developed in my previous position as a project manager for the City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island from 2014 to 2016. I love serving on the Bethlehem Food Co-op’s Board of Directors and hope to continue through a full term!

2. What do you believe is the value of cooperative enterprise in today’s economy?

As a current board member, I am often asked “Why should I join the co-op? What will it do for me?” The answer to this question is the root of cooperative enterprise: the co-op will provide what you and your community want and need because as a member/owner, you have a say! The Bethlehem Food Co-op will empower its owners by giving them a voice in what it provides and how, will provide access to a full service grocery store in what is now a food desert (downtown Bethlehem), will be walkable for residents of the area, thereby increasing real estate values, and will provide a gathering place for the community. The biggest difference between co-ops and regular businesses is that co-ops are able to be proactive when it comes to servicing the needs of their communities/members, whereas traditional businesses are reactive in how they service their communities. We’ve all had that moment when a national chain doesn’t carry our favorite brand or product anymore! Having some control over business decisions would mean less of those moments, and more moments of appreciation for having the store we want. The literal answer about the value of cooperative enterprise is that co-ops already have a significant influence on the economy. In fact, 2,531.1 billion U.S. dollars are spent in co-ops every year, and 32% of that is in the food sector. Local co-ops in the Philadelphia area bring in between $5 and $20 million per year.

3. What aisle can we expect to see you shopping in when our co-op opens?

Produce! About 80% of my shopping cart is fruits and vegetables. Another 10% is cheese! Any local foods are especially attractive to me since they pack a lot of flavor.

Watch a video interview with Laura:


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commented 2018-09-18 09:37:18 -0400 · Flag
Laura would continue to do great work for the organization