All in This Together at Abiwin Co-operative

5 August 2020

As the pandemic moved into high gear in Canada, businesses were closing and employees were sent home; a new normal was taking hold. It quickly became clear to the staff and members of the Abiwin Co-operative that they should support each other during this difficult time. 

Abiwin is home to members with diverse economic and cultural backgrounds.  Students, families with young children, grandparents and people with disabilities, including people with chronic illnesses, live there. In the spirit of the cooperative's adage “everyone for everyone”, the community has chosen to help its members by offering different forms of social support. 

Reach out to members

Kerry Conway, the coordinator, contacted the members individually to ask them how the lockdown was affecting their household. Information on federal and provincial government financial support followed, along with advice on how to apply. In addition, the Abiwin Co-op's bookkeeper kept abreast of federal assistance available to co-ops and made sure not to miss any opportunities.  

More communication

The distribution of the Abiwin Co-op newsletter began to be distributed twice a month, and some improvements were made to the internal website to keep members informed. The co-op also decided to check on the welfare of each member who needed extra attention in person, by phone, text message or email. Some were in desperate need of more human interaction and emotional support to help them cope with the pandemic and the changes in their usual lifestyles. Finally, to cheer each other up, the co-op's social committee hosted virtual events on Zoom that ranged from a daily coffee break to quizzes, bingo, yoga, meditation, knitting and more. 

Food safety

Recognizing the diversity of needs within the cooperative, a pantry was created where members could share food with their neighbors. These donations not only saved money for low-income households, but also made it possible to travel less often to shop for groceries. 

Prevention of the spread

Like many other co-ops across the country, the Abiwin Co-op has limited visitor access and restricted delivery to the ground floor. Common areas were reserved for necessary activities, with physical distancing measures in place. The cleaning inside the cooperative has intensified. Cleaning supplies were available in common areas, such as the laundry room, ensuring that disinfection practices were followed as needed. Hand disinfection stations are monitored and replenished on a regular basis.

The co-op has made changes to its yard to provide easy access. This allowed members with reduced mobility to enjoy the fresh air while remaining safe within the confines of their co-op. When the weather warmed, money was allocated for gardening and improving grounds, thus encouraging members to participate in outdoor activities that allowed for safe distance contact. 

Respect for the principles of the cooperative 

The measures that the Abiwin Cooperative put in place provided its members with a financial, emotional and social safety net on which they could build during the first months of the pandemic. The staff and board at Abiwin Co-operative continue to support their members to deal with any permanent changes that may arise from COVID-19. Their commitment to the well-being of the Abiwin community is an example of the cooperative spirit at its best — a spirit of mutual support — during this unprecedented time. 

Thank you to the Abiwin cooperative for sharing this exemplary story. 

Co-ops without Paid Managers

Since 2007, the percentage of co-ops without paid help is down by more than half to a mere 2% of Agency clients. Another 12% just have a lonely bookkeeper.