September 13, 2003 ~ Co-Op Shift
I slipped in the door, signed into the register, and pulled out the communications log under the checkout, reading the new entries. Pulling out the date book and a pen, I got a cart and started down Isle One, checking the date on every package. I noted that Enriched Chocolate Soy Dream would be expired come Wednesday, and wrote it into the date book. Isle two, I found three packages of cous cous mix and some instant mashed potatoes that were already out of date, plus a few more items to log in the date book.
I smiled as the man from City Bakery came through the door with a box full of bread. As he stocked the bread shelf, I slid behind the register just as the lone customer, a hunched old man with a slow shuffle, was ready to check out. Typing in the prices (we don't have a scanner), I asked him how he was. We chatted for a minute, he handed me several wrinkled bills, I handed him his receipt and loaded his groceries into one of the used grocery bags that members had brought in.
The rest of my shift was much the same. In between ringing up customers, I pulled every expired item in the store from the shelves, wrote warnings in the date book of soon to expire items and reduced their price to help them move quicker. I also stocked and priced items from the recent shipment, and put out foods to sample.
Even though the Saturday morning shift is pretty inconvenient, I still enjoy my volunteer time at the Co-Op. Not only does it enable us to enjoy the local, organic food they sell at reduced prices (not to mention we can take any of the off-date goods for free), but I feel as if I'm contributing to a vital resource for our community. Making organic, local foods available is very important to me. I believe in the Co-Op philosophy, too. Non-profit food distribution, community owned and operated.
Of course, there's also the people, neighborhood regulars, who enjoy the more relaxed and personal grocery environment, where you know that the cashier's smile is genuine, where you can be called by name, where you can start up a conversation and not feel rushed, where you can mention a product that you'd really like to see on the shelves and it will actually be considered by the board, where you can complain about something and actually be heard.
Oh, do I enjoy the people. Today, for example.
The two athletic-looking young men who teased each other like brothers, who bought snacks, water, and other road trip foods and couldn't stop laughing, causing me to grin too.
The large man with the long white hair and beard, who did not speak a word during our entire transaction. He only nodded and smiled. But, once I handed him his receipt, he gave me a serene, "Bless you," handed me a page of his poetry, and walked out the door. A poem about inner peace, a poem about turning seasons and their spiritual symbols, a poem about how love relates to sex, a poem about Eastern and Western philosophy.
The little girl who came in and shyly asked where she could find the toilet paper. When she checked out she handed me the five-dollar bill that had been wadded tightly in her fist, afraid that she would drop it.
The man with John Lennon glasses, a big bushy brown beard, and a handkerchief over his long hair, who asked about foods and drinks that are immuno-boosters (directed him to the lemon-ginger-Echinacea juice, garlic, tomatoes, cranberries, and other vitamin C rich acidics like citrus.)
An acquaintance from the college whom I haven't seen for years surprised me. She's very, very pregnant (due next week!), and we caught up a little. She lives a block away! Didn't even realize.
One young, outdoorsy man was digging in his pocket for change, "Damn. I'm short two pennies." I pulled two out of the jar. "Here you go." He smiled, "Ah, you folks have a soul!" He then launched into a story about his experience at Walmart last week, where he was short three cents and asked the clerk if they had a penny jar and she had said, "No," in an "of course not" tone. He had to leave without his purchase, but first he turned to her and asked, "Well, can I leave some of my change here for the next person?" "No, we don't do that." "Um... Could you start?" "No." He said he looked at her, shook his head, and said, "Well, Walmart just lost my business for the rest of my life." "I hated going there in the first place, and I'm never going there again," he told me earnestly.
The woman who came in with her little boy, and mentioned that she had just moved here and loved the little Co-Op. She wrote a check for her groceries, and when I saw her California driver's license I asked if she had moved directly from there, and before I knew it she was telling me much of her story, her husband's death last spring which had prompted her big move, how different the climate is, how she loves it here, except for the bugs because her little boy was getting eaten alive. I advised her to try nutritional yeast, because when I started using it regularly I stopped getting bug bites (which was probably due to all of the B vitamins). So she added some of that to her groceries, told me about the house they had moved into, as she pointed down Vermont Street out the front windows. When she left she smiled and said a very genuine thank you. It wasn't the normal, off-hand thank you that is polite to give to a cashier, but instead it was a thank you for listening to her, for being interested in her life, for giving her advice, and for making her feel so welcome.
And really, that's what the Co-Op is about.