'Co-op Angel' pays it forward by giving away free Mustard Seed memberships

A woman fondly known as 'the Co-op Angel' has been giving away free memberships to deserving customers at a not-for-profit grocery store in downtown Hamilton.
Lynda Narducci works at Hamilton's Mustard Seed Co-op. She also acts as a middle woman for an anonymous donor who has been giving away free memberships to deserving customers. (Sunnie Huang/CBC)

What can you buy with $100 at a grocery store?

For Amanda Thurlow, who received a Mustard Seed membership worth $100 from an anonymous donor, it gives her a sense of community.

"It's a gift far beyond food," she told CBC Hamilton. "It's a gift that keeps on giving."

For the past six months, a woman fondly known as "the Co-op Angel" has been giving away free memberships to deserving customers at the not-for-profit grocery store in downtown Hamilton.

The donor is a woman in her late 50s or early 60s who shops regularly at the store, according to Lynda Narducci, a Mustard Seed staff member and the middle woman between the donor and the customers. 

The donor first approached Narducci at the checkout last September.

"She was writing out a cheque ... and said that she was single, raising kids and it was a struggle for her and she just wants to help a family," Narducci said.

Sense of belonging

There is one catch, though. 

Instead of giving the money to charity or buying food for those in need, Narducci said the donor specifically asked for the $100 to be used toward a Mustard Seed membership.

Customers can still shop at the co-op without a membership, but becoming a member allows them to enjoy special discounts and voting rights on decisions that affect the store. 

A membership means even more to the Mustard Seed community, Narducci said. 

The donor's gesture embraces the co-op's principle of bringing the community together through local, healthy and affordable food, she said. 

"It's just that sense of belonging," she said. "When people shop here, it's not a big-box store."

The co-op, which opened in Hamilton in January 2014 after several years of community-driven effort, currently has more than 1800 members. 

More than a grocery store

Narducci now gets a $100 cheque every two months or so from the Co-op Angel and helps her pick the recipients.

"I just keep the cheque, waiting for some sort of sign and direction to show me who would most benefit from this," she said. 

So far, five people have received the donated memberships. Thurlow is one of them. 

The 37-year-old from Hamilton said she has struggled with some personal issues. Her father died in 2013 and she was out of work for a year until recently. 

"My life was a mess," she said. 

Then the surprise gift happened while she was getting back on her feet. 

She said she loves to shop at Mustard Seed, but the $100 membership was out of reach. 

"[The Co-op Angel] made it possible," she said. 

Right now, only a handful of staff and customers know about the Co-op Angel, but Narducci said she wants to share her story with the public to show that the Mustard Seed community is more than just a grocery store.

"You come for the eggs but you get so much more," she said. 

Are you the Co-op Angel? We'd like to hear from you. Email us at hamilton@cbc.ca. 


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