Amidst increasing political anxiety and uprisings, wartime scandals and radical social changes in the 1970s, this university became a center of student activism. Students rallied against the Vietnam War; social and cultural standards were changing, and people's sense of community seemed to be strengthening.
Of the different changes implemented on the campus at the time, the university initially considered funding a food co-op, book co-op and music co-op. When the plans fell through, a group of students rallied: They began selling sandwiches anywhere they could - at events, gatherings, even out of baskets. The police tried to shut them down, but they failed; students stood in hordes to buy the sandwiches, refusing to back down. In 1975, the Maryland Food Collective was officially granted space in Stamp Student Union.
The store, which specializes in vegan and vegetarian food, has had ups and downs throughout its history. The community of close-knit workers and customers has helped the company scrape by in times of need - from Stamp threatening to evict the co-op for refusing to serve a student based on a T-shirt she was wearing, to the mere difficulty of running a business that sells inexpensive food yet still has to pay the bills.
The co-op has now run into another problem: The company accumulated a massive amount of debt over the years due to its lack of a long-term business plan and now needs $16,000 by June 1 to renew its lease in Stamp. The co-op may have been able to survive in years past, but it's already April and the store has only raised $50 online.
Yet employees don't seem to be worried. All 17 paid workers recently took pay cuts, from $10 per hour to $7.50 and now have no potential for raises. They said they are happy to give and help the business live on.
It's commendable that the employees are so passionate about their business, but there needs to be more of a sense of urgency to save this campus gem both by the workers and the campus community in general - the survival of the co-op depends on it.
Students have proven their loyalty time and again over the years; they love the store. During lunchtime, the line can be just as long in the co-op as at Chick-fil-A or McDonald's. The co-op should not be floundering; it should be thriving. In its time of need, the co-op needs to directly reach out to its patrons and show just how desperate it is to stay alive - not just sit back and hope everything falls into place.
The community needs to rally once again to keep this business going. The company's website boasts, "Our community is our greatest strength. The Maryland Food Collective has survived since 1975, through good times and bad, as a result of the people who have supported and loved it through all those years. ... We create community through everyday interactions and special events that reflect our mission both as a business and passionate human beings."
This editorial board believes that's true, and it's time for everyone to prove it. The co-op should reach out to other student groups and the community in general to get more support. Student groups and co-op patrons in return should volunteer their time to help save this campus landmark.
If and when the company makes it through, employees need to set a specific plan for its future, so problems like this don't continue to arise. As the old saying goes, you don't know what you have until it's gone. We hope we don't have to find out.