Crime at the Co-op


Happy customers buy kale at the Ashland Food Co-op

Happy customers buy kale at the Ashland Food Co-op

“Did you hear about the embezzlement at the Co-op?” I asked James, who came back from taking care of his dad on Wednesday night.

“I heard about it at the Buffalo Co-op,” James said. “When I was checking out. I said I’m a member of the Ashland Co-op and they said they were planning to review their safety measures because of what happened. What happened?”

I wish I could answer that.

The Ashland Food Co-op is one of the most popular stores in our town of some 20,000 people. It sells a wide range of organic produce and products. There’s a juice bar and an excellent cafeteria-style restaurant where you can buy the world’s best caprese sandwich. You can sit at tables inside or out or hang out in the small patch of grass in front of the Co-op that’s encircled by a rock wall kids love to climb on.

They also offer community classes at a space down the street.

But my favorite thing about the Co-op is the “Basic Pricing,” which is available to both members and non-members. Two hundred of the most popular organic items–from bananas to whole wheat flour–are sold almost at cost, which means they are cheaper than conventional grocery store products.

James and I found out about Ashland thanks to the Co-op: When we were considering where to move, we got a directory of the some 200 independent food cooperatives in the country and Ashland was one of them. Before that, I had never heard of this town.

AshlandCoopLogoOne of the employees has been embezzling money. She’s believed to have taken about $12,595 since January.

But it’s not just any employee.

Her name is Corina.

Though she was barely showing when I was already as big as a brick house, she was a couple months more pregnant than I. Super friendly, with a smile for everyone, Corina always chatted as you checked out.

Hesperus, my 10-year-old, remembers Corina’s story about choosing her son’s name.

She and her partner knew they were having a boy and they were on a road trip together. They passed a road sign with a place name and they both got goosebumps. They instantly knew that’s what they would name their little boy. I had tears in my eyes when she told us about it.

We’re members of the Co-op, which means we’re one of the some 6,000 people who own shares in the store. I feel so badly for Corina. I can’t help wondering if she was taking the money (which she would sneak out of the till when she rang up coupons without anything being detected) because she–like so many of us–has been having trouble making ends meet.

I have no idea. But she has a tiny baby who needs his mother. I don’t want her to go to jail.

“She brought it upon herself,” my friend L. pointed out when I told her about it.

Maybe that’s true. But wasn’t this crime a call for help? If we take Corina away from her baby and put her in prison, we’ll just be committing another crime. She needs an intervention, maybe. She needs support. She needs treatment. But she won’t get the kind of help that will heal her and keep her from committing other crimes in prison.

What do you think? Should the Co-op press charges? Should this young woman be prosecuted for stealing money? Why do you think she committed this crime?

Related posts:
I Go To Jail
When Your Husband is in Jail

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on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 at 8:22 am and is filed under News from Ashland, Oregon.
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