Community health is community wealth.

That idea led Casey Thomas ’16 MPH to become a key player in the establishment of the Renaissance Community Cooperative (RCC), a full-service grocery store cooperative that is a beacon for Northeast Greensboro. After 18 years as a “food desert,” the surrounding neighborhoods now have access to affordable, fresh, quality food.

Thomas has always been interested in social justice and in addressing inequality. Now, she is one of many from the UNCG community working to improve food access in Guilford County.

“Oppression can take root in people’s bodies,” she says, pointing out that low food access leads to shorter lives, more chronic pain and greater risk of getting sick.

In the winter of 2013, Thomas joined the RCC Committee, a group developing by-laws for the community-owned grocery store and a plan for its establishment. She worked alongside other board members and community partners to raise the $2.48 million needed to open the store.

Her work with the RCC became the internship part of her program in UNCG’s Department of Public Health Education. She felt very supported by the professors, such as Dr. Kelly Rulison, who showed her how to write effective grant proposals for the co-op.

Thomas continues to play a big role in the RCC by serving on the board, providing co-op education and recruiting owners. In 2016, she was appointed chair of the Owner Recruitment and Outreach Committee. The RCC now has over 1,000 owners, and Thomas hears good things said in the aisles when she visits the store.

But it’s not just about food shopping.

In addition to permanently ending the area’s “food desert” status, the RCC’s mission includes providing sustainable jobs for residents and investing profit back into the community.

“A big part of the co-op to me is that we can build wealth together,” says Thomas. “With a focus on everyone.”

 

This post was adapted from a UNCG Magazine story written by Susan Kirby-Smith. To read more, click here.
Photography by Martin W. Kane