By Rina Torchinsky
The Maryland Food Collective celebrated 44 years of the cooperative May 10 in the wake of the Stamp Student Union’s decision to shut down the eatery at the end of the month.
The event welcomed students and alumni to a photo-lined exhibit that showcased the history of the Co-op during the 12-hour event in the North Atrium. While the event celebrated the Co-op’s past, it was also framed around the restaurant’s campaign to stay open.
“Stamp’s planning to shut down the Co-op, but we’re doing all this work to keep this place open, and rather turning it into a celebration of our time here and a rallying of support for continuing the Co-op as institution,” senior environmental science and technology major Jacob Mast said.
Mast is a member of the Solidarity Co-op, an initiative to garner community support for the sustainable institution. Members of the Solidarity Co-op attend weekly meetings, usually over a meal, to discuss the future of the restaurant.
“That creation has allowed us to reach out so much deeper into the community,” he said.
Mast said that since the Solidarity Co-op’s inception, the number of people volunteering, ordering sandwiches and placing catering orders has increased.
The success of the Solidarity Co-op, along with the addition of a dishwasher, which was funded by a sustainability grant, has made the Co-op more preservable, Mast said.
He also said that greater interest in hiring worker-owners outside of the kitchen in financial or administrative positions have made the Co-op’s continuance more viable.
“Or even using the Co-op as a case study for a project in the business school, working with the communications department and really stitching the Co-op back into its place as an integral part of this university,” said Alice Murphy, a freshman environmental science and policy major and member of the Solidarity Co-op.
Deborah Kleinmann, a worker-owner from the 1980s, came back to campus for the event. She was an activist in high school and started college at Frostburg State University before coming to the University of Maryland.
“One of the women who was [at Frostburg] said ‘go to the University of Maryland, find the Co-op, and don’t look back, because that’s where you need to be,’” Kleinmann said.
Kleinmann recognized herself in photos at the exhibition. She said she remembered the Co-op being very active.
“We had lots of ideas,” Kleinmann said. “We had a move from a really small space into a bigger space.”
Mast said he didn’t think such ideas were coming to an end.
“I think there’s a lot of power here that the students hold, and that the community holds, that just needs to be leveraged the right way,” he said. “It’s demonstrations like this that are going to show them what we’re made of.”
Worker-owner Sarah Eppley, an alumna who started working at the eatery four years ago, said she thinks the Co-op will shut down at the end of the month.
“I had made a promise to myself that I’d either leave the Co-op in a better state than I found it, which has been going downhill since I started there, so I was really committed to turning it around,” Eppley said. “If that failed, I’d stay until the bitter end, so here I am.”
Kleinmann remains hopeful.
“Keep the Co-op open,” she said. “That’s my hope.”