Left Justified: Two gifts for the price of one

Giving can be such a chore.

But we are called to give. Any reading of the Quran or the Bible says how important it is to share your wealth with the poor. Tithing is not supposed to go to your church so that they can get a new parking lot, but to the widow and the orphan, to the needy and the poor.

And then add on the holiday gift giving.

Most gifts are made in factories, and most American gifts come from foreign lands where workers sweat and are not fairly compensated. Thanks to free trade agreements, a lot of stuff is flowing into this country, and we don’t know who made it and how it was made.

But I know where you can find gifts for your loved ones that will also help the people who make them. Giving one gift with two rewards!

Fair-trade items are fairly purchased from a collective or cooperative (a group of people who jointly own or manage their own productions), or from the artisans themselves. These purchasers care about the environmental effects of their purchases and are concerned for the producers who labor to put something on the shelves of America.

Started by missionaries and peace activists who visited Third World countries such as Nicaragua, Indonesia, Kenya, etc., they found that small business loans to capitalize local artisans improved the lot of the villages, put people to work, and ensured the environmental health of the community. The biggest work was bringing these items home to America. Most of the importers of fair trade items are volunteers who donate their time to transport these goods to your homes (there’s still a lot of transport costs). Church bazaars were the primary sellers of these goods.

But now, fair-trade stores are popping up, and one of them is in Rockford. Its name is JustGoods-fair trade market. It’s at 201 Seventh St., and is a project of Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work). This new nonprofit is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and soon to open Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. Volunteers run the store.

By giving a fair-traded gift to someone whom you love, you are also giving to a nonprofit organization that pays a cooperative artisan group and makes real changes in the world. You give two gifts at the same time.

Let me just tell you about three simple items available:

A tea box of cinnamon bark, with a Vietnamese symbol of prosperity and good luck carved on a smooth, sanded lid, is sold through Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade organization. Cinnamon trees have a growth cycle of five years. When they reach maturity, the bark is used for crafts, and the wood is burned as cooking fuel or ground up into cinnamon dust.

A basket from Bangladesh, handmade from kaisa grass, helps marginalized people in the Nilphamari District, one of the poorest areas in the country another project of Ten Thousand Villages. The people only have grass to work with. Money from the sales helps not only the workers, but the whole village shares a benefit.

Coasters, picture frames and placemats made of recycled newspapers coiled into squares, come from the Women’s Multipurpose Cooperative in the Philippines. This innovative process turns old newspapers into new and beautiful products by wrapping the paper into coils and forming them into spiraled square building blocks. These blocks are then joined together with thread to make the various items. All the blocks are then starched to make them hard and shiny. They have been tested and should stand up to heat and moisture from average use. This is another project from Ten Thousand Villages.

Other items for sale include fair-traded coffee and chocolate, as well as teas certified organic, ceramics, jewelry, clothing, toys, ornaments, various textiles and knickknacks.

Giving can be fun and biblical at the same time.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Nov. 22-28, 2006, issue

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