Whenever a community acts and develops a certain way of knowing about itself and others, it is, by the same token, instituting itself as such, inviting a future for what it does and indeed, actualizing the power it holds to shape a way of life. (Jovchelovitch 2008, p. 29).
Emerging Themes from Qualitative Data (November/December 2012)
In general, we have found that the store is a gathering space in which there is authentic, two-way dialogue and where people feel valued for who they are, as they are. Everyone is valued, no matter their circumstances. The community is only as strong as its weakest member, and it counts how that weakest member is treated. Food corps workers take extra care for individuals in need.
Belonging has emerged as an important value. People who come to the store feel acknowledged for who they are in a non-judgmental way (“I see you and you are important”)
Becoming relates to the sense of change going on in the store and, subsequently, in the community (from transactional to transformational). The store is contributing to building a safe, secure zone, but it is important to note that this sense of security is balanced out by realistic expectations. That is to say, a sense of accountability and personal responsibility is an inherent part of the emerging community. Everyone involved in the project has high, supportive expectations of the potential of the community’s capacity for coming to know and understand what needs to be done. The store is a restorative space that is helping the community get itself back in order (because perceptions from insiders and outsiders suggest that it may be out of order now). The store is consistent in all its dealings with the community and in the ways that consequences are meted out for contradicting the values that are becoming important, or failures to be responsible to the developing, shared expectations.
Sense of family entails seeing the store as a homeplace in which people feel at home, and where they feel comfort. They feel protected and safe, and as such, they can be vulnerable. The store is a social space of respect and caring and where solutions to personal, local, or political problems can be discussed and valued.
Communicating includes seeing the store as a hub, a resource and a gathering space. Customers seem to see the store as a place to get information, particularly information about what’s going on in the neighborhood and a place where they can bring forth questions and issues to be resolved, or to get initial counsel for. Communicating is authentic, dialogic, and synergistic.
Building relationships is embedded in varying roles emerging in the store (elders, men and women, counselors, security, greeter). Greeting each person with solid eye contact builds trust through communication that allows for saving face. In this way, relationships are developed through what people say and what they do—it is embodied and communicated both directly and indirectly.
Building community is connected to building relationships and to family in the sense of the store being a place of becoming and changing (transformational). People feel a strong sense of belonging and safety.
Building community values entails communing together (e.g. harambee, sharing meals) where there are intimate exchanges of thoughts and sharing of common interests. Intimacy is built through recognition of having gone through similar circumstances. Education is highly valued across all participants.
In addition to field observations and interviews, data was sought through the completion of online surveys in the store. Completing the surveys became a shared literacy experience, as over 130 store customers (many of whom found the computer format somewhat daunting at first) shared their responses to the items listed below.
Survey findings (n=135):
• Frequency of Store Visits: The majority of respondents (37%) come to the store more than three times per day. 16% come to the store at least twice a day while 13% come once per day. The remainder come on a weekly basis. Most respondents (45%) live right on the block while another 27% live within 2 blocks and 14% live between 2 and 8 blocks away. 8% of respondents don’t live in the neighborhood, but shop at the store regularly.
• Reasons for Purchasing Sweets: The majority of respondents (49%) buy sweets because they are convenient and taste good. 30% buy sweets as a reward for having a good day and feeling successful. Only 7% said they bought sweets because they were stressed, sad or depressed. 15% said they didn’t buy sweets at all.
• Reasons for purchasing beer: 62% of respondents do not buy beer. Field notes that show that it is the same people who buy beer rather than it being a lot of different people. Of those who do buy beer, 20% buy it because they are going to hang out with friends, while 9% say they buy beer as part of their everyday routine. Only 2% buy beer when they are under stress or having a bad day. 8% just want to be alone and enjoy a cold drink.
• Opinions about Smoking: A majority of respondents (40%) are aware smoking is a deadly habit and do not smoke. 32% of smokers know it is bad for them, would like to quit but have not gotten around to it yet. 4.5% think that people make too big of a deal about smoking and 4.5% need cigarettes to feel like themselves.
• Reasons for Coming to the Store: Most respondents (50%) come to the store to get things they need for their home, while 30% drop in when they need something quickly. 19% come to the store because they like to visit with the people there, 21% come to get advice and support stating that it’s not just about groceries and snacks. 13% like that they can bring kids to the store because they know it’s a safe and friendly place.
• Handling Problems at Home: When asked what they do when they are having a problem at home, 55% of respondents said they talk with people they trust while 45% keep it to themselves. 2.3% sometimes make themselves feel better with alcohol or junk food and another 2.3% take their anger out in ways they regret.
• Improving the Future: We asked what respondents think would make the world today better and 69% stated that people should take more interest in each other and show care and concern for others. 28% thought people should take care of themselves and their problems responsibly while 19% thought people should mind their own business. 4% thought people should fight back no matter the risks.
• Meeting the Needs of Children: When asked what children need most, 76% said that they need love and support, 48% said responsible role models who make a good honest living, 41% mentioned food, shelter, and safety, 44% a stable family/home life and 42% stated that education was a way to a better future.
hooks, bell (1994). Homeplace: A site of resistance. In D.S. Madison (Ed), The woman that I am: The literature and culture of contemporary women of color (pp.448-454). New Yorlk: St Martins.
Jovchelovitch, S. (2008). Reflections of the diversity of knowledge: Power and dialogue in representational fields. Meaning in Action Pt 1, 23-36.
 bell hooks (1994) and other scholars of color, identify homeplace as safe, organically established places where people from non dominant communities can grow, develop, and nurture spirits, hence establishing communities of resistance (p. 449), free from the expectations of a dominant or oppressive culture.
 Respondents often checked more than one box under each question.