When Alma Martinez first joined our food co-op a year and a half ago, she had no idea she’d be running it someday.
“I was always there helping,” Alma says. “I got more involved and was going more often, then one day they offered me a job as the manager.”
The staff recognized Alma’s unique abilities to organize and connect with people and knew they would benefit the co-op. “I’m fair,” Alma says. “I don’t let people just come in and take their food and leave. This is their co-op. They’re the ones running it. I’m just there to make sure everything runs smoothly.”
A commitment to inclusion and equality
Alma has a system for ensuring that everyone gets involved at co-op meetings. As people come into the co-op space, they sign in. The first group to arrive sorts food, the next group breaks down boxes, and the last group cleans up after everyone is done.
While Alma knows that her leadership style was difficult for some people to get used to at the beginning, she has seen how her commitment to inclusion and equality has helped to build deep community at the co-op. When people don’t have the option to just pick up their food and go, they begin talking with one another and getting to know each other, and bonds begin to form. “It’s not only about the food,” she says. “We have another family here.”
Alma has even noticed that some of the co-op members have adopted her leadership philosophy and are helping to ensure that people know how to help. “They’re doing what I first started doing and saying, ‘Hey, you need to help out!’” she says. “Even the men are helping. They’re there to help me with whatever I need if I call.”
A dedication to prayer and connection
Prayer is central to the sense of community Alma is building at the co-op. At the beginning of each meeting, members gather in a circle to pray for the food and for one another. When people share concerns that Alma thinks Ciudad Nueva might be able to help with, she shares their needs with Joe and Tamy, two other members of our staff, so that they can help connect people with community resources.
“When people have problems, we talk about it and try to help that person,” Alma says. “We want to help the community and be a big family that helps each other. It’s not a food bank — we have a connection.”
That connection isn’t just a one-way connection, either. “We know every time they pray, they’re praying for Ciudad Nueva,” Alma says. “And they talk to each other. They offer to help one another. It’s amazing.”
A personal stake in the work
Alma’s own connection to our work started well before she got involved with the food co-op. Her two children have been in the youth programs since her oldest, who is now in high school, was in the third grade.
In many ways, Alma sees this job as a way of giving back to Ciudad Nueva. “Ciudad Nueva is a blessing for me and my whole family,” she says. “I love this work.”