In their quest for Catholic social justice, fair pay, and fair treatment of farmers and workers who produce goods Americans use every day, two parishes in the diocese have been selling fair trade items like coffee, tea and chocolate for years. This is part of a collaboration between the parishes, Catholic Relief Services and other organizations which work to ensure the public is aware of the concept of fair trade.
St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore and St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo promote and sell fair trade items. Additionally, Deacon Don Weigel, a Global Fellow and local representative for CRS, has worked with both of these parishes to ensure more people in the Buffalo area know about practices in other countries, including unequal pay, environmentally-unsound farming and sweatshop or child labor, which may be used to make non-fair trade items. With so many links in the supply chain, consumers are often unaware if these practices are used somewhere in it, he noted.
"The biggest feature of fair trade is two things: one is that it seeks to have living wages for the growers and the farmers who actually grow the product, and the produce. They do that by cutting out many of the middlemen, some of the supply chain between roasters, developers, shippers and importers," Deacon Weigel said. "They reduce that number for the farmers to give their beans to the co-op. The co-op produces them, the co-op ships them, and that's it. The growers get a larger percentage of the money."
According to Deacon Weigel, fair trade partners also place emphasis on the sustainability of the land in terms of making sure that it is not overused, which ties into Catholic belief in care for creation as Pope Francis covered in his encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si." "Catholic Relief Services has partnered with a number of places that have done fair trade. Our most prominent partner is Equal Exchange," he added, noting Equal Exchange is a co-op in Massachusetts for growers of coffee, chocolate and other items.
At St. John the Baptist, parishioner Mary Grace is responsible for the collaboration between the parish and Equal Exchange. The Kenmore parish has sold coffee via its Social Justice Committee since 2004. One of the committee's first projects was to begin promoting sales of fair trade coffee.
"We started very slowly. The first time we sold it was just in the back vestibule at church. We had one kind of regular coffee, and one kind of decaf. From there, it just grew. Now, we sell fair trade coffee from September through June, one weekend a month, after all of the Masses," Grace said. "We sell about six or seven different kinds of coffee, and about five kinds of tea. We have chocolate, and fruit and nut bars."
The committee got involved because its members felt this was a good way to answer the Gospel call to help and serve the poor via equitable wages for farmers to help them get on their feet and have dignity in their work. This puts money back into their small farms so they can send their children to school. Fair trade has been commonly confused with free trade, but these are two very different concepts, Grace said.
"It also is much better for the environment. Now we feel that with the pope's encyclical, 'Laudato Si,' that has just added fuel to the fire. They use sustainable agricultural practices, less fertilizer, less pesticides. They are smaller plots, so there is no deforestation," Grace added. "Most of their products are shade-grown, so that preserves habitat for wildlife, migratory birds, so we feel that has given it an extra shot in the arm, although that was always part of their intention and mission, but now it's sort of strengthened."
St. John the Baptist learned about selling free trade items from St. Joseph University Parish, which has committed itself to using only fair trade coffee, with doughnuts, after all liturgies, according to Sister Eileen O'Connor, RSM. Additionally, Sister Linda Glaeser, SSJ, sells coffee and other fair trade products on the first Sunday of each month. Sister Eileen said whenever people come to the community room, they can buy fair trade products to benefit Sister Linda's fundraising.
"We fundraise to help people in mainly eastern Africa - Kenya and Zambia are our two partners," Sister Linda added. "We work with microloans for women's groups, although not just women. It's wonderful since it lets them support their whole family. We have an HIV/AIDS transportation program."
Mary Ellen Dye, a high school classmate of Sister Linda, works with Sister Linda to sell fair trade coffee at St. Joseph University Parish. Dye orders and coordinates efforts to promote it.
"It's a fundraiser, so people know when they buy coffee on the first Sunday of each month, it goes to her. It's a commitment on the part of our parish to make sure that, as far as we are able, we are supporting the farmers and not using those middlemen that are taking away some of their livelihood by the fees that they have to pay," Sister Eileen said of the sales that directly support Future in our Hands USA.
CRS partners with Ten Thousand Villages, a store in Williamsville that carries only fair trade products. "When you go in there, you can be sure that you are buying ethically, because you are buying fair trade-certified products. Most of the coffee comes from Central and South America," said Deacon Weigel, who went on a non-CRS service trip to Guatemala last month. "Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia are some of the prime places, and much of the chocolate (we eat) comes from Africa."
Since CRS is instrumental in providing services for the poor throughout the globe, the relief agency also offers diocesan resources for those who wish to promote fair trade products in their parishes. Coffee is generally the first product sold, since it is popular and tends to be an easy sell for most individuals.
"It's really simple to get going for parishes. It's having some determination to do it, and getting people who are willing to host a sale on some regular basis in church," Deacon Weigel concluded. "It's easy to get going, but it just takes someone to be willing to do the work to actually get things going. Mary Grace and I are happy to help anybody who wants to get started, and we can get them started immediately."
For more information about how to start selling fair trade coffee and other products in a parish, contact Mary Grace at 716-875-4667, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Deacon Don Weigel at 716-864-9525, or email@example.com.