The Takoma Park/Silver Spring Cooperative grocery store is open to the public. It was incorrectly reported in yesterday's Maryland Weekly that it is open to members only.
Like thousands of similar enterprises across the country, the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Cooperative, a community grocery housed in a red brick building in Silver Spring, has as its motto, "Food for people, not profit."
It may have a Silver Spring address, but the cooperative -- known as the TPSS Co-op -- is within glancing distance of Takoma Park and very much a product of that city, a politically active community that spills from Montgomery County over into Prince George's.
In addition to declaring itself a nuclear-free zone, Takoma Park's political statements include a ban on city contracts with companies involved in building weapons. Now the city is home to a 200-member co-op that has adopted a sister co-op of sorts in war-torn Managua, Nicaragua.
Members of the TPSS Co-op pool their resources. Only members can shop at the co-op, and they must volunteer to work at the store. "We try to make decisions by consensus, where everybody agrees on a course of action or a stand to take," said 69-year-old Norman Malakoff, who helped start the co-op in 1981.
The Central American co-op, the Claudia Chamorro Cooperative, is vastly different from the family-oriented TPSS Co-op, which sells only vegetarian foods and household items free of animal byproducts.
The co-op in Managua is run by prostitutes.
The women of the Claudia Chamorro Co-op are developing a grain cooperative, which -- with grants and help from friends such as members of the Maryland co-op -- may provide the economic foundation to start a meat processing plant.
The Claudia Chamorro Co-op has a savings program that helps each of the women involved set aside $5 a month, which may someday give them an economic springboard out of their profession, as illegal in Managua as it is here.
TPSS's Action Faction -- its outreach and education committee -- voted last fall to start a project to help people in Nicaragua, where a number of its members had traveled. Some members of TPSS who visited Nicaragua had heard about the Claudia Chamorro Co-op and others read a 1984 article in Ms. Magazine that detailed the prostitutes' struggle to build a better life, said Susan Byrne Thomas, 36, a member of Action Faction and one of seven full-time employes at TPSS.
The idea initially met with debate and some resistance from co-op members, according to Malakoff.
"Naturally, an issue like this had some pros and cons to it, so we had to discuss it," Malakoff said. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations have been strained in recent years as a controversy rages over whether the United States should be involved in that country's revolution.
"While some people had some misgivings about the idea, most of those were not opposed to the idea but they thought it might be misused -- like supporting the government of Nicaragua rather than the people, like it would be a government-to-government thing, not a people-to-people thing," Malakoff said. But last September, the members embraced the idea and sent a letter to the Nicaraguan Embassy here offering their help to a food cooperative according to Thomas.
In December, William Van Wyke went to Managua as a representative of the TPSS Co-op with a starter set of office supplies and an offer of help for the Claudia Chamorro group.
What they really needed, the women told Van Wyke, was a truck to haul food for their cantina and store.
Through yard sales, dances and parties, TPSS Co-op already has raised $1,500 for the coop in Managua, according to Thomas.
Thomas said Action Faction members are trying to decide whether it makes economic sense to ship a refrigerated truck they have bought for $500 to Nicaragua. If it does, the truck may be shipped next month, she said.
Beyond that, TPSS Coop members are planning ways to teach the women of Claudia Chamorro how to run a successful food cooperative and cantina.