Equal Exchange’s interfaith program highlights the connections between faith and Fair Trade in social-justice driven congregations around the country. We asked program participants from faith-based groups to share what drives them to support small-scale farmers and describe how their Fair Trade programs impact their own community at the same time. Read on to learn more about these inspiring organizers and communities!
Gary Estep, Trinity United Methodist in Chico, CA
“We at Trinity United Methodist Church have been selling Equal Exchange coffee, tea and chocolate for several years now. Since UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) is associated with Equal Exchange, it was a natural fit for us.
Profits generated from our sales support our outreach program to assist those in the community who are transitioning from homelessness to under a roof. We have helped two single moms who found themselves homeless, at no fault of their own, and a young woman who had been living in a shelter but wanted to enroll in college. She needed $500 to move into a dorm at the college and we were able to give that to her.
We’re also donating to a local shelter for teens and young adults who have found themselves homeless because of difficult home situations and inability to find employment sufficient to meet their needs. We accumulated over $1,000 over the past several years and are so pleased that we have been able to make a difference for these individuals in our community. Besides, the products are wonderful and our church members appreciate the quality we can offer them through Equal Exchange participation.”
Nancy Hoatson, Hershey United Methodist Church, Hershey, Nebraska
“I have been using Equal Exchange products since 2004, when I went to a church conference and started purchasing them there. In 2008 I went to a conference workshop that was about setting up Equal Exchange sales in your hometown church. At the time, we were planning a mission trip to Africa and so I set up a Mission Store and stocked coffee, tea, dried fruits, and chocolate. I marked up the items a tiny bit and the profits went to our Mission Fund. For several years after the African mission we have supported African children’s education with the profits from the Mission Store and now, for the last 4 years, we have supported Imagine No Malaria with our Fair Trade sale profits.
I especially enjoy using the tea, coffee and chocolate, and so does my congregation. Many use them for special meaningful gifts. I’ve presented in area churches educating others on the mission of Equal Exchange, as fairly traded products help individuals, families and communities develop schools and medical care for entire villages.”
Jeanette Ruyle of UU Society of Grafton and Upton, Grafton, MA
“The Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton in Grafton, MA, has been purchasing Equal Exchange Fair Trade coffee for at least the past ten years to serve at our Sunday social hour. Not only is it delicious, buying Fair Trade coffee is a simple way for congregants to practice social justice. Our Unitarian Universalist principles include working toward the goal of peace, liberty, and justice for all.
Seven years ago, our religious education program for children started hosting a Fair Trade sale table at our annual town winter holidays fair. The children learn what “Fair Trade” means, particularly in regards to Fair Trade chocolate. They hear that people can be social justice activists by the way they decide to purchase goods such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and more. Even if children cannot buy these things themselves, they can be aware of what is happening and they can actually teach their parents and family members! As we have kept up this effort, it is gratifying to see older children who have been with us for a while explain Fair Trade to the younger ones and why we are doing what we do.”
Molly Zeff, Brooklyn, NY
Molly, pictured left, worked at Equal Exchange from 2010 to 2014 before moving on to study social enterprise/nonprofit management in an MBA program.
“What would your life be like if you got to work at a job every day that reflected your religion’s deeply held values? I had the opportunity to experience that perfect match while working in Community Sales at Equal Exchange, where the Fair Trade mission offered a way to act upon Jewish values.
The main value I’m referring to comes from one of Judaism’s greatest sages, Maimonedes: the highest level of tzedekah – often translated as “charity” but from the root word “tzedek” (justice) – is to give someone a gift or interest-free loan; enter into a business partnership; or find the person a job, so that they are not dependent upon charity. This teaching from Hebrew School helped guide my career search: although I knew from age 14 that I wanted to work on poverty, there are countless ways to do so, and my religious background taught me to focus on economic empowerment. Through working with congregations that sell and serve fairly traded products, I found a powerful way to pursue that path.
I’m a new member of three lay-led Jewish communities in Brooklyn, NY, and the buying club I’m starting will span multiple Jewish communities. I’m excited to introduce new and old friends to Equal Exchange!”
Stephanie Line of First Christian Church, Galesburg, IL
“Our church has a long-time relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo and our sister church in Mbandaka, DRC. Our goal is to support New City Church of Mbandaka and their ministries. What a blessing Equal Exchange Congo Coffee has been to our efforts!
Once a month, we serve Congo Coffee at our Fellowship Time. The love offering taken becomes part of the funds sent to our sister church to support micro-credit education for women, school uniform/supply programs, livestock projects and clean water/well construction. The ripple effect of serving Equal Exchange coffee is amazing! Purchasing Organic Congo Coffee benefits Panzi Hospital, Fair Trade farmers, Disciples of Christ: Week of Compassion and New City church of the DRC.
We are proud to say, ‘Our coffee has never been so strong!’”