It’s possible to create something today that will produce benefits for years to come.
A letter I recently sent tells my story:
To the workforce of Rainbow Grocery,
I imagine none of you know who I am, but I wanted to commend you all on your work and the service you offer the community. I’m proud of the part I played in the beginnings of Rainbow Grocery, 45 years ago this summer.
I know the history of Rainbow is posted on your website, but perhaps I can add a few details to the store’s origins.
In 1973, after doing construction work in Colorado for a few months, I returned home to Quincy, California, to attend to a book I co-authored that was ready for release (Homesteader’s Handbook).
When I arrived, I found that many of my friends had moved to San Francisco to participate in a communal living experiment, made up of others like me who practiced a meditation method taught by Prem Rawat, also known at the time as Maharaji, a title he picked up in his native India.
Over 100 people were in the group, sharing resources and living together in a dozen houses across the city. Some worked full time to provide income, and others had particular assignments to help the community function. Always eager for adventure, I relocated to the city, where, along with my canine companion, Charlie, I joined the community.
Because I had experience as a volunteer at our mountain food coop, the group coordinator asked me to start a similar operation in the house where I was living on 5th Avenue in the Inner Sunset District.
Entrusted with a budget of $2,000, I started out gathering food sources. The workers at the nearby Noe Valley Community Store offered their help. I bought 15 round cardboard bins for bulk products and a glass-faced cooler unit for perishables, and then set up the equipment in the attached garage of the house.
The community supplied me with enough cash to keep things stocked, and twice a week, a representative from each household came by to pick up what was required to feed their inhabitants. This arrangement continued for nearly a year until, assisted by John David Williams, we moved the operation into a warehouse.
In 1975, I lived on Albion Street in the Mission District with Bill and Janet Crolius and a few others. Together, we decided to open the store to the public and name it Rainbow Grocery.
We moved the co-op into a vacant storefront on 16th Street, just around the corner from our rented flat. This soon expanded into two storefronts, one for food and the other (the General Store) for non-food items.
My start at Rainbow propelled me into a 12-year natural foods career, culminating as purchasing manager of a large Denver-based natural foods distributor.
It’s amazing how small efforts made today can offer enormous rewards over time—touching the lives of many. I see by your website, that you now employ a workforce of over 250. I never imagined Rainbow Grocery would become so large, much less still be around 45 years after I first gathered those simple cardboard bins.
There’s no way of knowing how many customers and workers Rainbow has served and benefited. So never underestimate your contributions.
I can see by reading your mission statement that the values we embraced at Rainbow’s creation are still in force today. Many thanks to the current workers—and to all the others who came before—for making Rainbow Grocery a long-standing community icon.
Note: Rainbow Grocery let me know that they were thrilled to receive my letter and enjoyed reading about the history of the cooperative from one of the founders. They have tentative plans to add the photo and story to their website.
Has something like this happened to you?
Please share your story in the comments below.
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