Food for People, Not for Profit! 

Bob Biderman, long-time member and Karma legacy donor, shares his story and connection to our community

Karma is embarking on a fundraising campaign to raise much-needed reserves for repairs and renovations to the store. We are currently investigating the possibility of gaining charitable status, which would enable Karma to issue tax receipts. We also hope to have members designate Karma as a recipient of donations in their wills. With that in mind, here is a short interview with Bob Biderman, a long-time Karma member, who has set aside funds in his will for Karma:

I read about a food co-op called Karma 2 on Parliament Street, and joined. I quickly became heavily involved, but in 1978—when it became obvious that Karma 2 was not viable—I joined Karma just as we moved into our building on Palmerston.

I was greatly attracted to the idea of a store that didn’t make a profit from selling something as essential as food. I saw a member-owned co-operative as an alternative, a challenge—albeit a small one—to the existing food system. The slogan for food co-ops across North America at the time was “Food for people, not for profit.” A community of people working together seemed wonderful too.  

Karma’s politics matched my own.  I come from a family that strongly supported unions, wanted working people to be compensated fairly for their labour, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Karma wanted that too. I was also volunteering for the United Farm Workers, and Karma was one of very few stores in Toronto that was supporting the UFW boycotts. Karma also supported the South African boycott. Our co-op has been such a major part of my life that I would absolutely be lost if it ceased to exist.  

Years ago, my wife at the time asked me why I’d go to Karma on Saturdays when the store was so busy.  The fact that the store was busy was precisely why I’d go then. I enjoy the schmoozing that goes on between members, children shopping with their parents, hard-working staff members, who take time to warmly greet members by name, and the generally warm ambience that I think you’d have to look long and hard to find in another grocery store. I watch the sales figures too, since I am well aware that we have to be viable as a business, and feel pleased when sales are strong. 

I enjoy chatting with and showing around people who are new to the co-op as well as conducting more formal orientations. And it feels good to know that we are supporting farmers, small businesses, and other co-ops by selling their products. I also email board and staff members with ideas and requests to help improve Karma, so it can grow.

As you can see, Karma has meant a great deal to me for much of my adult life. I want Karma to carry on, giving others as much pleasure and providing terrific service to members after I am gone. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I’m able to leave inheritances to family as well as bequests to both Karma and Common Thread Community Choir, a social justice choir I helped found.

If Karma continues to make improvements in the coming years in the way it has done recently, it will be truly a remarkable place. I would love to see the membership and sales grow substantially and find ways for us to provide exceptional service to all our members. Could we expand our sales or storage facilities?  Is moving to another location an option? I don’t know, but I don’t think we should dismiss those ideas out-of-hand. If there are ways of Karma encouraging and supporting emerging food co-ops, I would hope we would be right there! COVID has expedited many of the services that I’ve dreamed of for Karma like grocery deliveries and shopping online—and I am so happy to see these things are here.

Members, if you are in a position to give, and if Karma has been a significant part of your life, then I would urge you to consider putting our very special community food co-op in your will.

 

    —Bob Biderman, Karma Member since 1978, and legacy donor to Karma Co-op