How Many Ways Can a Dollar Give?
Fundraising Through UMCOR's Coffee Program
by Christie R. House
I didn't know anything about farming. I'd never grown anything
before; I didn't even know how to grow a tomato. I owe everything to
ASPROCAFE. They saved my life. They trained me; they gave me seeds and
loans to get started.
A few years ago, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew--a United Methodist congregation in Manhattan--decided to send a Volunteer-In-Mission (UMVIM) team to Cuba. Its mission would be to help build desperately needed worship space for the rapidly growing numbers of Methodists there. Around the same time, this Manhattan congregation also decided to buy only Fair Trade coffee for its Sunday after-church fellowship hour. Over time, these two decisions came together to support one another in a wonderful way.
Utilizing the Coffee Program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), St. Paul and St. Andrew could easily place its order--averaging about two cases of coffee a month--with a simple call to the Equal Exchange Interfaith Coffee line. An invoice came with each coffee shipment and was paid along with other monthly bills--simple!
Then members of the congregation, who really liked the coffee, thought: "Why don't we order extra cases so we can take this coffee home with us?" At the same time, the church needed to raise $5,000 to $6,000 so that its UMVIM team could buy building materials and tools in Cuba for use in building a new sanctuary there. So a church notice went out inviting members to add extra cases of coffee for themselves to the next church order. A $5 surcharge to support the Cuba mission trip was added to the cost of each extra case. When Equal Exchange added organic chocolates and teas to its product line, the church program really took off.
High-quality chocolate became the favorite gift for birthdays, Christmas, and family gatherings at Thanksgiving. Organic baking cocoa made excellent brownies, cakes, and cookies. And it wasn't long before the cooks in the congregation discovered that the very dark, organic chocolate bars, made by co-ops in the Dominican Republic and Peru and processed in Switzerland, doubled as semi-sweet and even unsweetened chocolate in recipes. Chocolate miniatures are now a staple for some congregation families, being used for Halloween treats and Easter baskets, as well as for hospitality gifts on Election Day, when the church becomes a polling place for its voting district.
Over four years--through coffee drinking and fellowship, baking and giving, guilty sharing of chocolate treats, and conversing over cups of tea--lo and behold, the $5,000 was raised for the Cuba mission trip. That, in itself, is a wonderful fundraising story, but it's only half the story of how much the dollars in this Fair Trade exchange actually bought.
Doña Lucía Bañol moved to the outskirts of Riosucio, Colombia, to try to make a better life for her five children. Bañol is a single parent. She is connected to St. Paul and St. Andrew Church in Manhattan because her 3,300-member farm cooperative, ASPROCAFE, sells her coffee to Equal Exchange for the Fair Trade price. This price includes a 5-cents-per-pound premium used by the cooperative for social programs. St. Paul and St. Andrew buys Bañol's coffee through the UMCOR Coffee Program.
Bañol, like many of her neighbors, is part of a Native American group called Embara Chambi, which is indigenous to Colombia. ASPROCAFE members live on four reserves on the outskirts of Riosucio. In 1998, ASPROCAFE created an Organic Coffee Program to increase the yields of the farms, improve family health and nutrition, diversify the members' incomes, and protect the environment. Bañol became one of 451 farmers involved in the Organic Coffee Program. They produce four containers of organic coffee each year, and Equal Exchange buys the entire lot.
All that Bañol has is a half-acre of land. When she first arrived, she struggled to feed her large family. "We were living in a shack," she told Equal Exchange's Phyllis Robinson. "The walls were made of tin; we just had a dirt floor. But I sold my coffee to the co-op and, after a while, I had earned enough to fix up the house." She now has a bright red cement floor and flowering bushes throughout her yard. Asters and geraniums line the mountain path that leads to her door. She grows organic fruits and vegetables between the rows of coffee plants and also raises pigs, chickens, and rabbits. The animals were bought on credit through the Women's Program of ASPROCAFE, a microcredit program made possible through Fair Trade premiums.
After six months, Bañol had repaid her loans, so she bought more animals and another small plot of land from a neighboring farm. Waste from the coffee pulp and the animals is used to fabricate a bio-gas for cooking. She grows sugar cane, beans, and corn. "Now I seldom have to go into town," she says. "I grow everything I need right here on my own farm. Cooking oil and salt are the only things I need to buy!" All of her children have been able to go to school in town. "I owe everything to ASPROCAFE," she says, "They saved my life."
By ordering through the UMCOR Coffee Program, St. Paul and St. Andrew has also participated in one of the most effective ways of fighting poverty: provide people caught in poor circumstances with training, material, and a little bit of capital. Thus provided, they gain what they need to work their own way out of poverty in their local economies. Imagine a scenario in which the church had direct contact with Lucía Bañol, giving her an amount of cash equal to its spending on the UMCOR Coffee Program--money she could use to build up her farm. If she had not received training and networking opportunities from the ASPROCAFE Cooperative, she probably would not have been able to feed her family for even a year. That shows the strength of the Fair Trade alternative.
The Cacao Connection
In 2009, St. Paul and St. Andrew ordered about 30 cases of Fair-Trade chocolate and cocoa through the UMCOR Coffee Program. The cacao farms that grow the pods used to make Equal Exchange chocolate are part of a large cooperative in the Dominican Republic or belong to a few other co-ops in Peru. Much of the cocoa market across the world is fraught with problems of child labor, slave labor, and other kinds of unfair practices.
Twelve-year-old Abel Quezada de la Cruz, a 7th grader, lives on his family's farm, which is a member of the CONACADO cooperative of small farmers in the Dominican Republic. "My father's name is Daniel Quezada," Abel told an Equal Exchange visitor, "and my mother's name is Evangelina. We have cacao farms that are very beautiful, with lots of fruits, lots of cacao. We sell the cacao to make money.... I like to feel the fresh air when we are harvesting and cutting open the cacao. It's a very beautiful thing--white and beautiful, like cotton.... I like everything that has to do with cacao, because when I am in the cacao trees, I feel very happy."
Abel attends a school that is being supported by the CONACADO cooperative. Using Fair-Trade premiums, the co-op supports a number of community projects for its nearly 10,000 members. It helps out with school supplies, building materials, and scholarships to further the education of cacao farmers' children. The premiums also contribute to the improvement of the island's infrastructure.
Building roads helps to connect the small farms, where families too often become isolated on their own land. Wells for clean, potable water; houses for members who live in substandard conditions; electricity projects for whole communities; and collection centers to reduce waste are other projects funded by CONACADO for its farm communities. The co-op also provides medicines and reparations for community clinics and grants for women's organizations that seek better conditions for their members through small income-generating projects.
The church's connection to this work is fundamental to its mission. Its commitment to buying Fair-Trade products provides aid to impoverished families in ways that no UM Volunteer-In-Mission team could ever do. Aid through Fair Trade premiums comes from neighbors and partners who have worked their way out of poverty and walk side-by-side with others who seek to do the same. This kind of aid enables small farmers to take control of their living conditions, provide for their children, and increase their assets. US churches can contribute to this work with their buying dollars, participating in an equal exchange of excellent products for a fair price.
A Dollar's Working Day
For United Methodists who participate in the UMCOR Coffee Program, all of the above-mentioned benefits--funds for mission projects, excellent products, just wages and adequate living conditions for small farmers, poverty-reduction measures around the world--are still not the end of a dollar's working day. In addition to providing Fair-Trade premiums to cooperatives, Equal Exchange also sets aside a percentage of UMCOR Coffee Program sales to give back to UMCOR.
In 2008, UMCOR received 15 cents per pound of product sold, a total of more than $24,000. The Small Farmer Fund from Equal Exchange supports UMCOR's Sustainable Agriculture & Development (SA&D) program, Advance #982188. Each year, at least 3,300 persons benefit from this UMCOR program--either directly, as newly transformed farmers, or as people who have heard of the new methods by word of mouth. More than half of the beneficiaries are women, and 60 percent of the participants being trained teach the new methods to their friends.
UMCOR has programs in eight African countries so far: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
A Solid Mission Investment
The summer of St. Paul and St. Andrew's Cuba mission trip has come and gone. Friendships and long-lasting relationships were formed as bricks were added to the walls of a new sanctuary. This year, the church is saving Coffee Program money to send its youth on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. The trip is a good investment in the lives of the church's youth. On a deeper level, the UMCOR Coffee Program is a good investment in the lives of many people that church members will never meet. These lives will be profoundly affected by the church members' choice to ensure a fair wage for the people who produce the coffee they drink in fellowship every Sunday. The circle of fellowship is wider than they can possibly imagine.
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook.
Date posted: Mar 19, 2010