Article adapted from a UNCG Magazine story by Susan Kirby-Smith
Community health is community wealth.
That idea led Casey Thomas, a recent graduate of UNC Greensboro, to become involved in the establishment of the Renaissance Community Cooperative, a full-service grocery store cooperative that is a beacon for Northeast Greensboro. After eighteen years as a “food desert,” the surrounding neighborhoods now have access to affordable, fresh, quality food.
Thomas, who earned a Master of Public Health from UNCG in 2016, 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 bylaws 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 received support from the professors, including Dr. Kelly Rulison, who showed her how to write effective grant proposals for the co-op.
Thomas continues to play a major role in the RCC by serving on the board, providing co-op education and recruiting owners. Last year, she was appointed chair of the Owner Recruitment and Outreach Committee. The RCC now has over 1,000 owners and Thomas hears good things being 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.”
Photography by Martin W. Kane
Casey Thomas inside the Renaissance Community Cooperative community-owned grocery store
in Northeast Greensboro