A co-op for Kensington

Posted: June 30, 2014

LENA HELEN, of East Kensington, could barely contain her excitement upon learning that her dream of a member-owned grocery store, filled to the brim with healthy products, was finally coming to fruition.

"It's going to be huge!" she exclaimed.

Helen, the president of the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC), dreamed up the idea for a neighborhood food co-op back in 2008.

But the organization was only able to secure space for a permanent home in April, she said. The co-op will be at Frankford and Lehigh avenues in what was formerly O'Reilly's Pub. Renovations on the property are expected to begin next year in preparation for a 2016 opening. The entire project is expected to run $1.2 million.

"Our goal is to sell spinach that you can believe in," joked KCFC board member Jeff Carpineta, of East Kensington. "We want to provide food and goods that take into account ourselves as well as the environment.

"A part of our business is creating togetherness for neighbors who want to be involved and care about the future of the community."

Co-op member Mike Wade and his wife, Sue, of central Bucks County, purchased the former pub site, which will be renovated and leased to the co-op.

The couple have long-standing family ties to the area and see the project as a chance to aid in its elevation.

In a few years, "it's gonna be like Brooklyn down there," said Mike Wade, 45.

Though the co-op idea began with Helen, 48, she emphasizes that this is a group project.

"I came from Portland, where there was a fertile crescent of healthy food choices in the urban environment," she said. "I was struck by the limited food choices in Philly."

Currently the KCFC hosts a marketplace at Circle of Hope Church, on Frankford Avenue and Norris Street, on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. This new store will be the first brick-and-mortar location that the co-op can call its own.

When doors open, Carpineta said customers can expect to see plenty of space to convene, whether it's in the 500-square feet of garden space or in the cafe, where alcohol and snacks will be sold.

Additionally, there will be plenty of parking for cars, bicycles and scooters, he said.

The KCFC also will create jobs, emphasize the sale of local products and host food-justice discussions, Carpineta added.

For the next year, Helen said the co-op will focus on securing loans for the project and increasing membership, which is at about 500.

"When it opens, you will probably have to pinch me," she said.

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