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UW Oshkosh Professor Paul Van Auken awards Stephanie Gyldenvand and other 'Oshkosh Food Co-op' project supporters the first-place award in the Creating a Stronger Community Contest on Oct. 6.

The idea of coming together – and bringing people together – to do something great is important to Stephanie Gyldenvand.

That very idea of collaboration has Gyldenvand and tight group of supporters in Oshkosh putting their heart and soul into the planning for an Oshkosh Food Co-op.  Earlier this month, the Oshkosh Food Co-op won $1,750 in the inaugural Creating a Stronger Community Contest, a contest that encouraged community members and organizations to pitch homegrown projects that would positively affect the community.

“I got involved because I’m all about community-building,” Gyldenvand said. “I enjoy having a community that is engaged and works well with itself.”

A proposal for an innovative community garden and a Habitat-for-Humanity-based neighborhood improvement initiative earned the $500 second-place and $270 third-place Stronger Community awards.

The Oshkosh Food Co-op, Gyldenvand said, has been about two years in the making and recently regained momentum due to new initiators who are willing to coordinate, such as her. Typically, co-ops are created when a group of people come together and decide that their community needs a specific set of goods or services. They then leverage their combined talents and resources to bring the desired need into fruition.

Gyldenvand worries about the availability of food in the downtown Oshkosh area, which is why the food co-op idea is so appealing. Gyldenvand said the goal of the co-op is to make healthy food affordable and meet the needs of the Oshkosh community.

The next step, which was initiated by the award money from the contest, is a feasibility study, which will look at the needs and wants of the community and foster engagement. The study will take about six months, Gyldenvand said.

“Co-ops are run so differently that we really need to figure out what Oshkosh wants out of it,” Gyldenvand said.

The Creating a Stronger Community Contest was seeded by Oshkosh-based, community-building organization Square One and sponsored by the UW Oshkosh American Democracy Project, UW Oshkosh Foundation, UW Oshkosh Earth Charter Community Summit Committee, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation and Becket’s. Other project ideas included proposed projects related to sustainability, community-building, justice, volunteerism, increasing civic/political awareness and social entrepreneurship.

“It was exciting to see people wanting to do something to building a stronger Oshkosh. (The contest) brought the community together and brought all these ideas forward,” Gyldenvand said.

In the future, the Oshkosh Food Co-op will need many volunteers and champions, Gyldenvand said.

To stay up-to-date or get involved, check out Oshkosh Food Co-op’s Facebook page. Email oshkoshfoodcoop@gmail.com with questions.

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