Common Good eyes new round of community grants

  • William Spademan, executive director of Common Good, and Lynn Benander, president of Co-Op Power, in Co-op Power’s office in Northampton. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2018 10:44:09 PM

At a time to think about what to be thankful for, some Franklin County residents and people count among their blessings the community itself. 

Those are the roughly 300 people and 50 business members of Common Good in Franklin County, which is deciding on a second annual round of grants and loans to businesses and organizations to be made in coming weeks.

Last year’s awards totaled $10,000 for eight recipients. Among them were a new Stone Soup Cafe refrigerator, Shea Theater renovations, an Ashfield Lake House photovoltaic system, an  Art Garden therapeutic arts program in Shelburne Falls, Wendell’s edible permaculture garden, a new compost co-op run by former Franklin County jail inmates and support for low-income Greenfield Community Farm shares.

With the fund doubled to $20,000, this year’s award recipients — exemplifying “social justice,” “food systems,” “the arts,” “sustainability,” and “small business development” — will be selected by members from more than 32 proposals. 

The system, which uses a debit card and smartphone app, launched in December 2013 in Franklin County after a decade of development by William Spademan of Ashfield. A 61-year-old former website designer and computer programmer, Spademan sought a way of supporting the local economy as the first step toward moving to a world where communities actually worked toward the common good.

Launched originally as rCredits, the system initiated a Hampshire County program this month, and also is used in Goshen, Ind., as well as the Ann Arbor, Mich. area, with plans to establish Common Good communities elsewhere around the country, while also expanding around the valley, according to  Ivan Ussach, Common Good operations manager .

With local members, including Foster’s Supermarket, Baker Office Supply, Ryan and Casey Liquors and The People’s Pint, Common Good hopes to sign up another 1,000 members here in the coming year, Spademan told the fledgling Northampton group last month.

“Common Good communities take our destinies out of the hands of big businesses and distant government and brings it back into our hands at the community level where we see what is needed, care enough to fund that and create a better world for everybody,” he said.

Members deposit cash into the Common Good community fund and in exchange get a dollar-for-dollar supply of credits to use at any participating business.

“The idea is to keep circulating credits as much as possible, letting dollars in the pool of community dollars build up while the credits continue to circulate,” says Ussach. “(Member) businesses can take in credits, they can buy them from another business, or they can use them to pay employees” who choose to accept them for pay. 

Members can also cash their credits, dollar for dollar, from the community account at any time, Ussach said. 

“The key is about growing the economic circle, so when you use your credits to buy something at Foster’s or Green Fields Market, they can pay Artisan Beverage Cooperative, which can then pay their employees, to keep those funds circulating,” he said. “And, having each of the participants eventually putting dollars into the community fund means more to invest in the community.”

He adds, “The purpose of doing this is not to just have another way of buying in the supermarket. The purpose is generating resources for the community to reinvest where it decides it’s needed by having members vote. That’s the exciting part.”

Common Good is working on collaborations with local banks and with Franklin County Community Development Corp. Since deposits are not federally insured as bank deposits are, Common Good is also developing a system for people to voluntarily contribute to a pool that would further insure users if  businesses or organizations fail to repay loans and if there were ever a run on the bank.

The Common Good system is as easy to use as a credit card, but since participating businesses don’t get charged the 2 to 3 percent interest, as with credit card purchases, that’s a savings, said former Snow’s Ice Cream owner Gary Schaefer of South Deerfield, a Common Good member, and now a board member, as well.

“Retailers should love this program, since saving 2 percent is saving a lot of money,” he says. “It also builds a sense of loyalty, since if I’m using Common Good credits, I would be predisposed to places that take it. The idea is to keep money going to local merchants, so it’s somewhat of a loyalty program.” 

Instead of getting airline miles or other benefits for purchases with the 100 or so credits, it automatically replenishes through cash deposits while also banking locally, Schaefer said, “For those of us who care about local merchants and local community, it gives us way to live out those values by spending money at those local places and helping them save some money while doing business there. We get to feel good as part of locally based communities to help make them thrive.”

And, what goes around comes around in the form of community grants and loans, which Ussach said could someday total hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, rather than tens of thousands, as the fund grows.

“One of best things about this program,” he said, “is that it doesn’t stop anyone from doing any of the things they want to do — it just gives them another option, which in this case supports the community in very specific way in generating those resources back for the community.”

Reporting by staff writer Luis Feldman contributed to this report.



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