HARLEM—The Sweet Work Project is officially underway.

Former social worker Gregory Allen has surpassed his $22,835 fund-raising goal to open a pop-up vegetable co-op in an abandoned West Harlem bodega that will be staffed by former foster kids who have grown out of the social services system.

So far, 395 people have pledged $24,058 to the project. A link to the project was also posted on the Beastie Boys’ Facebook page.

Because Allen thinks the project will ultimately require up to $250,000 to run in the long-term, fundraising is continuing on Kickstarter, a website that allows people to contribute to a project, until Saturday.

“To see people believe in this is both surprising and empowering,” said Allen, 38.

The next step is to negotiate the lease on the bodega at 128th Street and St. Nicholas Terrace. From there, Allen said he will use the fundraising momentum to apply for grants to help fund the project.

According to his business plan, Allen plans to hire young people who have aged out of the foster system and are no longer eligible for youth social services.

Without the same networks that other young people use for financial and other support, these twenty-somethings have a higher rate of homelessness than their peers, lower high school graduation rates and lack the workforce skills needed to land a job, according to a 2010 study from the Vera Institute of Justice.

The Pop-Up Co-Up seeks to give workers hands-on work skills, business skills and an ownership stake in the store. Workers will also receive a living wage. Staring salaries will be about $28,500 with increases every six months or chances to own stock after the first year.
Allen is hoping the project can serve as a model that could be replicated elsewhere. In addition, the vegetable co-op would help with West Harlem’s lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Like politicians say, I feel like we have a mandate. And with all these eyes on us I’m also grateful for the accountability,” said Allen. “Mutual aid plus accountability equals community.”

Check out DNAinfo.com for continuing coverage of the Sweet Work Project

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