A flyer for the upcoming Night Out events that benefit the Delridge Grocery.

Delridge sustaining Delridge; 'Night Out' events at the Skylark seek to support the Delridge Grocery

By Emile Monte

Volunteer board member Jessie Rey Howard stands behind an orange-dressed table to the right as you walk into Skylark Café and Club. On top of the table is a similarly orange box with “Co-op” printed in blue and underscored by a pair of green onions. The box is flanked by small bins of brochures. The atmosphere is friendly and familiar—families sip house-made ginger beer in the booths behind the info table, talkative groups of friends occupy the bar counter munching on crispy fried pickle chips.

Tonight’s first musical guest, Alki band Robotic About Us, is setting up on the leopard-print-carpeted stage at the far end of the hosting venue/diner. They are opening the night at 8 p.m., to be followed at 9 p.m. by local singer-songwriter Aaron Zig. Skylark owner Matt Larson assures me, “It will be LOUD.”

The theme of the night is LOCAL. This is the first event of a Spring series that neighbors and music enthusiasts may look forward to—no cover charge—the last Thursday of the next three months. Skylark is donating the space (always family-friendly until 9 p.m.) and a dollar for every drink sold. Local musicians are donating their time and talent. Small, local businesses are donating raffle items. Before the show begins, volunteer board member Craig Mitchell takes the stage to welcome the gathered assembly of neighbors and inform them of what this is all about: “It’s a critical moment which will determine the success or failure of the Co-op. It’s time to put all of the pieces together and show that there’s a community that wants to sponsor an effort to fill the food desert of the Delridge corridor.”

The Delridge corridor stretches along Delridge Way between the West Seattle bridge and White Center. It is a residential district, home to mostly immigrants and lower-income families compared to the West side of 35th Ave SW. Jessie Rey has lived in this neighborhood for nine years, and has witnessed the community develop: “When we first moved in there wasn’t Pearls [Tea &, there wasn’t a skate park, the library had just been built. Then these things started popping up and I was getting excited but thought, Something’s missing…”

Volunteer board member Ranette Iding remembers a time growing up in the neighborhood when fresh food was available, but long ago the small grocery stores went out of business. Since then, no corporate grocery companies have wanted to fill the void because servicing this particular community was deemed “financially unfeasible.”

“It’s because it’s a diverse, fairly low-income neighborhood and nobody wants to put the money into it,” explains Jessie Rey, “yet.”

The Delridge Grocery Cooperative has been in the making since 2009. Galena White, a neighbor and urban farmer, originally reached out to her community with the idea of putting up a produce stand to sell and exchange the produce neighbors were growing in their own backyards. After that, volunteers tried a mock global market which met four hours a day, four days a week, for four weeks, at various locations along the corridor. Volunteers have all this time been trying to gather input and support from the community in order to better understand everyone’s needs and desires. The question has always been, “Can the neighborhood sustain itself?”

Serendipitous to the evolution of the grocery was the introduction of a housing project for the homeless to the Delridge community. At first, there was a lot of objection to the Downtown Emergency Service Center bringing in a population of residents who, according to DESC, “live with challenges that would seem overwhelming or insurmountable to the average person: mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions, HIV, physical or developmental disabilities, and extreme poverty.” Understanding the general concern, DESC wanted to give back to the host community, and had 2200 square feet of retail space available on the ground floor of their residential building across the street from the Public Library. Community volunteers agreed, “If you think this building is lemons, let’s make lemonade.”

The produce stand and global market were consolidated into the plan to invest in a stationary grocery store. It would be the Delridge Grocery Cooperative, a fresh food source by the community, for the community.

For the community because, as Jessie Rey says, “We need food. There’s a lot of people in this community who don’t have access to real food, even by bus.”

By the community because the Co-op is membership based, meaning that a portion of their funding would come from each founding member investing $100 to become a lifetime member-owner. The member-owner’s one-time $100 investment would help fund the development of the grocery and would award the member-owner a portion of the eventual profits. “That’s the important thing about the Co-op,” says Jessie Rey, “It keeps the profits recirculating within the community, instead of someone coming in and selling and all the profit goes out of the community.”

The stage is set, and now the Delridge Grocery Cooperative is looking for its players. Hence the combined efforts toward community outreach and education. It’s not so fancy or official. Jessie Rey is not a professional in business management or public relations. She, like the rest of the Co-op members and volunteers, is just a neighbor who cares. And, she admits, “If a year and a half ago I lived around the corner and even I hadn’t heard about it…”

For the grocery to open over the summer, the Delridge Grocery Cooperative needs to attract 400 more member-owners by June. It’s a tall order, but not the greatest challenge these volunteers have faced in bringing fresh food to the community.

“We really appreciate this opportunity to support access to great food,” says Milton Garrison, lead singer and guitarist of Robotic Are Us, to start the show.

The next Skylark event benefiting the Co-op will be on March 27th. It will feature the musical talents of local bands Wren and Gentri Watson and Benjie Howard. In the meantime, friends and neighbors of the Delridge community may visit http://delridgegrocery.coop to become member-owners and invest in real food for everyone.

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