Howard Bowers Day
by Alex Gyori
Every October for the past dozen years or so, food co-ops around the country have sponsored a day of fundraising for the Howard Bowers Fund, which has been providing grants for the continuing professional education and training of board members and employees. For the past nine years, I have been on the advisory board, which oversees grant policy, distribution, and the raising of funds. I would like to share with you the origin and activities of this important cooperative asset.
The fund honors Howard Bowers, a long-time leader at the Hyde Park Cooperative, a highly successful cooperative supermarket and department store in Chicago. You may have heard that President Obama was a member of this cooperative. Howard believed deeply in cooperative values, and spent over fifty years in the cooperative sector. What elevated him to near iconic status was his unfailing generosity in helping many neophyte cooperators, myself among them, learn the nuts and bolts of running our stores. After he passed away in 1991, the Hyde Park Consumer Cooperative and others who knew and deeply appreciated what he had done set in motion an initiative to honor his memory by creating a fund that would perpetuate his legacy of cooperation and learning. An advisory board was formed, and the fund took shape in 1993.
When asked by the fund advisors to join them, I did not hesitate, as it seemed a fitting way to express my own gratitude for what I had learned from him during my early years as a co-op employee. Besides his solid experience and knowledge about running a food store, what inspired everyone he came in contact with was his caring approach. He made each person feel as though there was no one else around, as if each person was an old friend.
In the early nineties, there was a growing need for people to help improve food co-op operations, a need that the founders of the Howard Bowers Fund recognized. Today, the Fund is actively involved in meeting this need, and is being efficiently administered by the Cooperative Development Fund, an umbrella entity that provides assistance to co-ops in all sectors around the world. The Bowers Fund is structured so that half of the money collected goes directly to co-ops, and half serves to expand the endowment that funnels earnings to the grant pool. A large portion of these monies is collected during the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference in June. A number of creative activities are organized—a silent auction, special events on the first night of the conference, and live auctions—which motivate participants to be very generous in their bids to win items such as display time at their home co-ops for the quilts made of T-shirts from around the food co-op world. You may have noticed several of the quilts on display here at BFC over the years. To collect enough for a winning bid, co-ops form spontaneous consortiums that create impressively substantial sums.
The October Howard Bowers Day event is a separate activity, and has a special purpose: to generate critical funds for start-up co-ops. It has helped countless initiatives keep the dream alive. Participating co-ops fundraise in one of two different ways: by pledging a specific amount, or basing the amount on a percentage of the day’s sales. Here at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, we have pledged using the second method this year, and will contribute ½ of 1% of the day’s sales.
Howard Bowers Day will take place on Tuesday,
October 22nd. I urge you to make a special effort to come to the Co-op on that day and contribute to the future of food cooperatives. Any purchase amount will help.
On behalf of the Howard Bowers Fund and the innumerable beneficiaries of its work, thank you so very much!