From club to co-op 

Last month, the Homestead Buying Club purchased 96 rolls of toilet paper at 52 cents a roll—roughly half the cost of a comparable roll from a retail store. The Northside’s Elizabeth and David Macasaet started the club in 2001 as a way for people to cooperatively purchase food and other staples, like toilet paper, at wholesale prices. Earlier this year, they turned over club management to The North-Missoula Community Development Corporation (NMCDC), a nonprofit organization that serves low- and moderate-income people who live on the Northside, Westside and residential downtown. In the next few months, the Homestead Buying Club will evolve into a food co-op.

“Often, people develop a co-op when things are hard, when their needs aren’t being met,” says NMCDC’s Molly Moody.

A co-op is a member-owned collaboration between local suppliers and consumers. Consumers who buy shares own the co-op. The Homestead Buying Club plans to incorporate by the end of October and undergo a membership drive before the end of the year.

Currently, says NMCDC’s Katherine Romano, between 30 and 40 people purchase through the buying club every month. Many seek nutritious food, which is available but not always affordable elsewhere in Missoula. On a recent shopping trip to the Good Food Store, Moody noticed a family-pack of extra sharp cheddar cheese from Victor’s Lifeline Farm for $12.39. Through the buying club, the same 24-ounce packet is available for $9.78—$8.50 plus a 15 percent handling surcharge.

“That’s quite a deal,” says Moody.

But a good deal isn’t the only factor driving the community’s desire for a co-op.

“What people have told me,” says Moody, “is they want a place where they can socialize and gather, a community center.”

Anyone can join the buying club and co-op, says Romano. A steering committee is searching for a permanent location for the co-op somewhere within NMCDC’s service area.

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