Christ Our Light Holiday Fair Trade Festival

By Joanna Gardner

Betty Atkins pulls articles out of the large cardboard box that has just arrived at her Cherry Hill home. There are blue corn husk angels from the Philippines, hand-crafted Christmas tree decorations from India, knit gloves from Nepal.

The items are just a few of a wide variety of artisan crafts that will be on sale at Atkins’ parish, Christ Our Light, Holiday Fair Trade Festival on Dec. 6 and 7. Atkins has been organizing the annual sale for the last five years.

“For me, Fair Trade is a way of helping our brothers and sisters globally, of reaching across borders to help those who don’t have the infrastructure to sell their goods in their own parishes,” Atkins said.

Fair Trade refers to trade relationships that offer fair wages and ensure humane working conditions for farmers and artisans in developing countries. The concept has its roots in the decades following World War II.

In the United States, the 1970s and 80s saw the beginnings of a surge in the number of fair trade organizations, and fair trade sales have grown continuously in recent years with an estimated $1.4 million spent on fairly traded products in the U.S. in 2014.

One such organization is Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Catholic Relief Services’ Fair Trade program began 15 years ago and currently sells more than $2 million annually in crafts, coffee and chocolate by engaging thousands of Catholics in fair trade opportunities across the country, according to the program’s website.

“Buying fair trade is a way of living Catholic social teaching in your everyday purchases,” said Christine Polit, the diocesan director for Catholic Relief Services in the Diocese of Camden. Key among those social teachings for fair trade are respecting the dignity of work and caring for the poor, Polit said.

For Betty Atkins, Catholic Relief Services is just one provider of fair trade products for the parish sale she organizes with a 15-person fair trade committee. Companies like Ten Thousand Villages, the Women’s Bean Project, and Equal Exchange fill in the ranks of coffee, chocolates, crafts, dried fruits, nuts and olive oil she will have on sale.

Individuals from the parish who have traveled to developing countries like Egypt and Guatemala have discovered local artisans that also provide some of the festival’s products.

Atkins anticipates that the festival will sell $15,000-20,000 worth of fair trade products.

“When you give a fair trade gift what’s pleasant is you can leave the tag on and people know this gift helped someone in the Philippines, for example. It’s a gift that gives twice,” Atkins said.

No profits are raised on fair trade items since all proceeds go back ultimately to the artisans themselves. The fair trade festival at Christ Our Light includes a bake sale and raffle that raises up to an additional $2,000 donated each year to a different charity.

This year all proceeds from the sale will go to Joseph’s House in Camden, an overnight café that provides shelter and connections to social services for the homeless. In past years, proceeds have benefited the construction of a playground at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, typhoon victims in the Philippines, local food pantries, and the Guatemala Stove Project.

In addition to the Fair Trade Festival, Christ Our Light’s fair trade committee also organizes after Mass fair trade coffee sales throughout the year.

Christ Our Light parish’s Holiday Fair Trade Festival will be held at Resurrection School behind Christ Our Light Church in Cherry Hill on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 7, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

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