On the first day of classes, the basement of the Corinthian Co-op is filled to maximum occupancy as students line the stairs, waiting to enter. Those leaving clutch dishes, vases and clothes in hand. “For many students, because the Co-op supplies some of their material needs, they then have money to buy their books and money to eat,” says Kim Walton, coordinator of the Co-op on behalf of the Wheaton College Women’s Club.
The Co-op opened the Monday before classes and offers a wide range of objects including tea kettles, comforters and sturdy winter coats. One might find a costume for a floor raid or even a new pair of jeans to last the Chicago winter. Anywhere from 60 to 125 visitors come on any given day, and the Co-op serves as a ministry to the Wheaton College campus body, students, faculty, staff and missionary families.
While many students know how the Co-op works, fewer know about the woman who came up with the idea for this ministry in 1968.
The Record sat down with Coral Rupprecht, founder of the Corinthian Co-op, to discuss how the project came together, the original mission, and some of the ways that this small space has left a big impact on those who have visited.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Record: How did you come up with the idea for the Co-op?
Coral Rupprecht: “(When I was in) England, I was able to rent things from the Visiting Scholars Society for my (one-year-old) daughter – a buggy, a playpen and a highchair. Because of that, I came back to Wheaton, and thought, ‘Here we are, Christians, but we don’t do anything for anybody else on campus.’ I decided maybe we should start something. I had (also) heard of three girls in the senior class the year before who burned their cashmere sweaters because they didn’t want anybody else to have them. So I thought, ‘Well, we’ll start something that will make people like that ashamed of themselves.’
R: How did the Co-op begin to grow? Who else was involved?
CR: It started very slowly. The first year my friend Marilyn Spradley helped me and we asked people to bring things their children had outgrown. We put them on a table and told people to help themselves. Nothing was left, so I thought, ‘This is really good.’ I went over to Henry Nelson, vice president for student development at the time, and asked him if we could have a place. He gave me a room above the Alumni Gym. We left it open and it became a real gathering place. It was just faculty (first), then staff, and then (we opened it to) graduate students, especially from overseas, (who) needed a lot of small appliances and things.
Some of the undergrads from overseas didn’t have winter coats, so (then) I decided it would be a good thing to let students in, too. We had it open all the time so anybody could go in. (However), people began coming in and making a mess of it, so we decided to close it and have somebody there. The Wheaton College Women’s Club came in and stayed there while the students took things.”
R: Why did you decide not to charge for anything?
CR: It was just sort of the Lord’s leading, really, more than anything else. Jesus didn’t charge us for salvation and we’re not going to charge for clothes. Nobody has ever spent a penny in there and that’s the way I want it to be forever.
R: Why is it called the Corinthian Co-op?
CR: Because my abundance shall supply your need and your abundance shall supply my need (2 Corinthians 8:14).
R: What is it that has kept you in this journey for so long?
CR: The thing that, I think, keeps us all going is that we have discovered that God really is a God of color, because we have students come in, and they’ll need a whole wardrobe. I just feel that it’s one thing the Lord gave me to do, so I’m going to do it until he says stop. I figure, well, this is a ministry I can do. It’s not too hard.
R: Can you share a memorable moment from your interactions at the Co-op?
CR: Somebody brought in a winter jacket directly from the store, it still had the tags on it. It must have been over $100. This girl came in and asked how much we charged for coats. I said, ‘Oh honey, we never charge for anything,’ and she said, ‘I went all last winter without a coat. I just put sweaters under my blue jean jacket.’ So I went over, and would you know, this jacket fit her exactly and it was the same color blue as her eyes. It was just so exciting.
The Corinthian Co-op is located on the lower level of 818 College Ave. Check wheaton.edu/WCwomensclub/Co-op. for hours.