Archive for Community

A letter of farewell from Sr. Jeanne Christensen

Dear Friends,

In 2006, the Kansas City Olive Branch was launched by Michael Humphrey and Dan Meyers, members of the Salvadoran Faith Accompaniment Group, who were concerned about the continuity of the work of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office.  This concern arose because both Fr. Frank Schuele and I were leaving the office.  I was humbled and pleased that they wanted to continue providing a strong resource to the peace and justice community in the greater Kansas City area.  With the help of dedicated individuals who served on the Visioning Board,   KC Olive Branch became a virtual reality.  Over the years religious women and men’s communities and individual donors have provided financial support.  Many have offered their ideas, encouragement, informational resources, and/or written articles.

In 2008, after both Mike and Dan experienced career changes, I became editor and successfully fulfilled that role only with the outstanding assistance of Clare Murphy Shaw – web mistress par excellent!!  Over the last several weeks, Mike, Clare and I have exchanged emails regarding the future of KC Olive Branch – the conversation was initiated when I expressed my need to resign as editor due to my additional ministry responsibilities.  I am continuing my Mercy community justice ministry from Kansas City, so you will still see me around.

I will miss my involvement with this wonderful virtual peace and justice community.  June 2012 will be the last edition that I edit.  How KC Olive Branch moves into the future is still being discussed.  If you have ideas or suggestions, feel free to send them to Clare, Michael or me; and I will see they get included in the conversation.

I hope that KC Olive Branch has been helpful and perhaps inspiring to you.  Thank you for being part of our community, working to make the world a more peaceful and just place for all.

Peace and blessings.

Jeanne Christensen, RSM

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High Interest Rates Drain Local Wealth

By:  Molly Fleming-Pierre

Communities Creating Opportunity Policy and Development Director

“On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act.   One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they journey on life’s highway.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Every day, thousands of families in Missouri struggle to stretch their wages across mounting bills.  Times are tough, within our faith communities we are finding too many families who lack the income to meet their basic needs.  In these difficult times, social service agencies, church emergency assistance funds, and food banks are all but tapped out.  As the financial woes for our working families mount, many Missourians turn to high interest credit, like payday and car title loans, to meet their short term credit needs.

Payday loans are small, short-term loans that are secured by a borrower’s personal check.  Payday loans typically cost $17 for every $100 borrowed and must be repaid in full before the borrower’s next payday—which translates to an annual percentage rate (APR) of 445% for a two-week loan, meaning that many borrowers pay more in fees than they actually borrow. For a “typical” payday loan in Missouri, a borrower completes eight back-to-back transactions before fully repaying an average loan of $300. This accrues $410 in interest fees.

These loans cause a predatory cycle of debt that traps our families into a spiral of recurring high interest fees. Exorbitant interest rates on payday loans ensnare our struggling families into spirals of debt so usurious that a $300 loan for the month’s groceries typically ends up costing our families a whopping $710.[1]  With these rates, the average borrower pays more in interest than the original loan amount.  The triple-digit interest rate is a product of the payday loan’s very unfair design: a loan that is due in full, plus interest and fees, in two short weeks and is secured by access to a family’s banking account.

These high cost loans don’t reflect the family values of our communities, and they dishonor the old adage that hard work and persistence create prosperity.  Even individuals who are able to repay their astronomical payday and car title loan debts are unable to build credit as these lenders refuse to report positively to credit agencies.  Small dollar, high interest borrowers are therefore trapped in a financial subclass that does not allow them to maintain income or build wealth.

There are now over one thousand payday lenders in Missouri, not to mention the hundreds of car title lenders and pawnshops.  That’s more than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.  While these loans are marked as a short term fix for unexpected expenses, they tend to trap people in debt.  Because the loans (and fees) are due in full within two weeks to a month, the borrower is forced to come up with a sizeable amount of cash in a short time.

Especially in these difficult economic times, we know that Missouri families deserve better.  In order for lending to build assets in our communities, lending products must abide by a fair interest rate.  As an interfaith community, we are building a grassroots base to outlaw the triple digit interest rates that cause the debt rap.  Lowering the APR to a reasonable figure, like 36 percent APR can be accomplished by either lowering the fees charged, or by giving families more time to repay the loan.  In either case, it means a family will be given a fighting chance to succeed, rather than being ensnared in a product that by its very terms makes it almost certain the family will fail.

This month as we celebrate the life and the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we are called to “transform the Jericho Road so that men and women and not constantly beaten and robbed along life’s highway.”  The Jericho Road in Missouri is broken.  Our rural, suburban, and city roads across the state run rampant with predatory lenders that charge triple digit interest, robbing our families of the wages they need to survive.  Faith community efforts are critical to freeing our neighbors from the payday debt trap.  Religious and community groups throughout the state are building a movement to Cap the Rate on these triple-digit interest products.  Visit www.cco.org or www.moresponsiblelending.org to learn how you can get involved.  Together, we can transform the Jericho Road.


[1] The average payday borrower in Missouri has 8 loans each year, most often taken out in back-to-back transactions. They therefore pay $48 in fees eight times, or $384, for what is essentially the original $290 line of credit. These data are from the Center for Responsible Lending.

 

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Collaborative Consumption

By:  Jeanne Christensen, RSM

A ‘Big Shift’ from the 20th century, a time defined by hyper-consumption (or conspicuous consumption), to a 21st century age of collaborative consumption is underway. Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping redefined through technology and peer communities. The primary source for information on this topic is here.

From enormous marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist, to emerging sectors such as social lending (Zopa), peer-to-peer travel (Airbnb) and car sharing (Zipcar or peer-to-peer RelayRides), Collaborative Consumption is disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing not just what we consume but how we consume. New marketplaces such as TaskRabbit, ParkatmyHouse, Zimride, Swap.com, Zilok, Bartercard and thredUP are enabling “peer-to-peer” to become the default way people exchange — whether it’s unused space, goods, skills, money, or services — and sites like these are appearing everyday, all over the world. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of these as most of us haven’t.

What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption is a groundbreaking original book that includes dozens of stories of how entrepreneurs and businesses are innovating in the space of Collaborative Consumption.  Financial Times says it is: “A remarkably hopeful and accessible book about a social revolution gaining momentum.”

Major areas for collaborative consumption include:

  • Product service systems where individuals Pay for the benefit of using a product without needing to own the product outright. Disrupting traditional industries based on models of individual private ownership.  This could be anything from car sharing to sharing solar power to toy rental to fashion rental to textbook rental.
  • Redistribution markets where used or pre-owned goods are redistributed from where they are not needed to somewhere or someone where they are.  Redistribution includes craigslist, eBay, free/gift exchanges, swap sites for books and other items, clothing swaps – the possibilities are many.

Collaborative lifestyles where People with similar interests are banding together to share and exchange less tangible assets such as time, space, skills, and money.  This can include coworking spaces, social lending, bartering, gardens, skill sharing, parking spots, errand and task networks, and other creative options.

Find two brief videos on this topic here  and here.The second video gives a concise explanation of the concept of collaborative consumption and its value.

For further reading:

Alex Goldmark, GOOD Magazine — October 11, 2011
“Peer to Peer Lenders Take Banks Out of Credit Equation”

Kevin Lee, Forbes — October 25, 2011
“Can China Lead The Development of a Shared Value Economy?”

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic — November 9, 2011
How Steve Case and His Company Are Driving the Sharing Economy

Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine — Thursday, Mar. 17, 2011
Today’s Smart Choice: Don’t Own.  Share


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Pequeña Comunidad: The road to New Hope in El Salvador

Editor’s Note:  December 2 marked the 31st Anniversary of the 4 U.S. Churchwomen in El Salvador.  We remember these brave women who were brutally murdered in El Salvador in 1980.  In their honor, you are invited to reflect on what Pat Marrin has written.  May it speak to your heart.  It is reprinted from The SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today Churchwomen Commemoration Guide – 2010

 

by Pat Marrin, National Catholic Worker Reporter and 2010 Romero Delegation to Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador Participant

The road to Nueva Esperanza is dusty and rutted, a bumpy ride for the old pickup truck Gigi Gruenke drove to San Carlos to get me. She knows the roads well from her six years in El Salvador, from 2001 to 2007, as a Maryknoll lay volunteer working with the sisters of the Pequeña Comunidad (“Little Community”) in the Baja Lempa region of the country.  She is back to visit and has offered to help me tell the story of the sisters as part of NCR’s coverage of El Salvador 30 years after the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980.

Nueva Esperanza (“New Hope”) has 140 families and is one of the last towns along the Lempa, the country’s main river, which winds snakelike from the Honduran border and empties into the estuaries along Pacific coast 10 miles south of here.  We negotiate around some cattle. A young girl and her brother hitched a ride in the back of the truck when we stopped at a market to pick up 42 eggs. A week of celebrating Monseñor Romero has kept the Pequeña Comunidad sisters busy feeding visitors.

I hold the four stacked cardboard trays tied with string. My arms flex to cushion the eggs at each bump. The children in back sway and hang onto the pipe frame above the truck bed. El Salvador is a place where metaphors spring to mind to help interpret fragile realities. I recall Scott Wright’s story about what it was like to be in the country during its brutal civil war. An activist from Washington, D.C., he had come down in the early 1980s to work in the refugee camps on the Honduran border, then slipped into the country to accompany the thousands of terrified people hiding out in the hills from the helicopter gunships and army patrols. During a stop to rest in the jungle, a woman handed him her baby to hold while she went off to do something. This was El Salvador. If you came here you were entrusted with something precious.

We drop off our riders and park the truck next to the sisters’ walled compound. The town exhibits a rustic simplicity that is also another name for poverty. Across El Salvador, from the urban sprawl in the capital to the tiny cantons in the mountains accessible only on foot, people are living on the edge. Even 18 years after the 1992 peace accords, political divisions and vast inequities still reflect a lack of resources throughout the country, but especially in areas held by the rebels during the war.  Malnutrition, no funds for schools or health clinics, and unemployment are forcing young people to head north or join the gangs that pervade even the rural areas.

Accompanying the people

This is where the sisters of the Pequeña Comunidad live and minister to a network of 47 surrounding communities. Their style is immersion with the people and their objective is empowerment. They catechize, do sacramental preparation, counsel ordinary ministry but with a bottom-up approach made popular 40 years earlier after the Second Vatican Council and the emergence of Christian base communities that emphasized the role of the laity in the church.  We enter the compound where Srs. Nohemy Ortíz, Hortencia Preza and Valentina Pérez join us in a large, covered courtyard with plastic chairs arranged in a circle, an all-purposespace for meetings, meals and prayer. At one end is a garden sculpture of a seated Romero.

Ortíz has been with the community for most of its 40 years. She says that it was “formed in the womb of the Christian base communities” where lay men and women were trained to conduct Bible study in the many outlying villages visited only rarely by priests. The grassroots vitality of the base community experience attracted young people to the church. Many young women who wanted to commit their lives to service but did not feel called to traditional convent life sought a new form of religious life among the poor. In 1970, the “Little Community” was formed. The sisters did not wear religious habits and did not seek formal status under church law.

Ortíz says that as many as 50 people, both men and women, were involved with the community, but that its vowed membership never exceeded 15. Today, there are a total of eight sisters: the three serving in the Baja Lempa area; two sisters, Ana Beatriz Landaverde and Maria Isabel Figueroa,  serving in San Salvador; and three others, Anna María Barriento, Yulma Bonilla and Carmen Elena Hernández, in Morazán. Two North Americans, St. Joseph Sr. Elena Jaramilla from Orange, California and Providence Sr. Frances Stacy from Spokane, Washington also work with the sisters.

“We never thought of ourselves as an institute or congregation,” Ortíz says. “We were committed to Jesus of Nazareth as his followers and disciples. Rather than take traditional vows to a superior or to a bishop, we take our vows before the people.”

Not having canonical status is outweighed, she says, by the freedom to go where the people need them, and to be prophetic in pursuing justice, even when this is difficult or controversial.

Preza tells of her path to the community; since childhood she had felt a desire to serve but her mother had discouraged her from considering the brown-habited nuns they saw in church. “I joined a choir and youth group where I met Nohemy and some of the other sisters. They didn’t wear habits and I wondered how they could be sisters,” she says. But the more she came to know them and their work with the people, the more she felt called to accompany them. She made her vows in 1989, while the war was still going on. She was 24 years old. “The church became real to me,” she says.

Pérez describes her childhood devotion to her family, but says that she knew she wanted to reach out to others and thought she needed to join the convent to do this. She met Preza, who was holding weekly meetings at her church. “I realized I could dedicate myself to God without going far away to do it. Nohemy kept asking me, ‘When do you want to join us? Come, the door is open.’ ”

Pérez read her vows publicly in 2006. She says that one of the things she values is the sisters’ freedom to reach out to all religious sects and faiths, as Romero had done.

Option for the poor

In its early years, the new community took inspiration from the 1968 Latin American bishops’ meeting in Medellín, Colombia, where the phrase “God’s option for the poor” was first uttered officially. A new spirit took hold in Latin America, challenging the traditional alignment of the church with wealth and power. In both urban and rural areas, Bible study led to analysis of the causes of poverty, unjust labor practices and land distribution, and the treatment of people by the police and military. Those in power, threatened by growing pressures for reform, accused some priests of being communists, including two Belgian priests who have worked closely with the Pequeña sisters, Frs. Pedro Declercq and Rogelio Ponseele. The struggle pitted conservative bishops tied to the wealthy and the military against the popular church led by Romero, who struggled unsuccessfully to hold both church and nation together toavert civil war, which broke out in 1981.

The image of the martyred Silvia Maribel Arriola is carried in this year’s commemoration march honoring El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Pequeña sisters, vowed to accompany the people, were caught up in the conflict. One member, Sr. Silvia Maribel Arriola, who made her vows with the group in 1975, is revered as one of El Salvador’s most beloved martyrs. She came to the community because of her desire to serve Jesus in the poor and through her friendship with Ortíz. Arriola was Romero’s personal secretary from 1977 until his assassination in 1980. A nurse, she was with a group of 97 refugees killed by the army on Jan 17, 1981. She was 29 years old. The bodies were doused in gasoline and burned to destroy evidence of the civilian massacre, one of 200 documented from the war.

The sisters say they continue to look to Romero for inspiration. Preza and Pérez cite his defense of human rights as the greatest challenge. For Ortíz, Romero remains a model of prophet, teacher and pastor. “He gives us spiritual eyes to see so we can continue to build the reign of God,” she says.  “He is now a risen in the people.

“Everyone wants him to be canonized, but not just as an object of devotion, someone to light candles to. He lived his life in total faithfulness during a very crucial moment in El Salvador’s history. We will honor him by living as he did, saying what he said. And that is not so easy.”

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Everyone Deserves Justice and Peace

“Everyone deserves justice and peace!” This was the sentiment of youth from the Learning Club Leadership Academy, a neighborhood teen youth program serving inner-city youth surrounding Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Kansas City, Kansas. The group’s members participated in the American Friends Service Committee’s Reflections on Afghanistan Mural project, which is teaching area youth about the Afghan people, the Afghan war and the impact the war has had on people there, on U.S. soldiers and on the United States. After learning about Afghanistan the youth create murals which reflect their feelings and thoughts about the war.

A selection of the murals produced by local youth will be added to the traveling exhibit, Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan (http://afsc.org/project/windows-and-mirrors) when it is in Kansas City from November 12 through December 30, 2011. The traveling exhibit will be on display at the in Central KCMO Public Library and the Johnson County Central Resource Library. The murals produced locally will be displayed with other student works at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.

After learning about Afghanistan the Learning Club teens identified themes they wanted to communicate in their murals. They wanted to recognize the violence experienced by both Afghans and U.S. citizens; the extreme poverty and hardships suffered by the people of Afghanistan. They wanted people to recognize our equality and that we have lots in common– the importance of family, hopes for the future, desires for peace, health, jobs…

Jose Faus, Kansas City area artist and poet, volunteered his skills to facilitate the creative process with the Learning Club youth. He introduced methods of communicating emotions and meaning not only with images but also with color, shape and rhythm. The results were extraordinary.

School and youth groups interested in participating in the project can contact AFSC at 816 931-5256 or afsckc@afsc.org.

We wish to thank Utrecht Art Supplies for their contribution of and discount on paints and other materials in support of this project.

Click here to see photos of Learning Club Leadership Academy working on murals.

This article was taken from American Friends Service Committee Website.

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Will Occupy Wall Street Lead to the Building of a Moral Economy?

Jeanne Christensen, RSM, Editor KCOB

Many of us have been following and/or participating in local “Occupy Wall Street” events.  It is both hopeful that voices are being raised and discouraging that, in many instances, those with power or authority have striven to silence those voices.  Encouraging is what John Gehring, from Faith in Public Life, says in his recent article (Occupy Wall Street, False Idols and Building a Moral Economy),in Catholics in Alliance —  “Even as some pundits and politicos dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as a fleeting burst of activism from the far left, Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said last week that the “basic sentiment” behind the protests aligns with mainstream principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.”  How many churches are waking up to the need to speak out about the gross injustices in the U.S. economic system? Gehring also says:

Ever since Pope Leo XIII ushered in modern Catholic social teaching with an 1891 encyclical challenging the excesses of a savage capitalism that exploits workers for maximum profit, the Catholic Church has been on the front lines of the struggle for economic fairness.  During the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan touted “trickle down” economic theories that disproportionately benefited the richest 1 percent, Pope John Paul II warned against an “idolatry of the market” and insisted that private wealth was subject to a “social mortgage” to benefit the common good. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, called for an economy that serves the “dignity of the human person” and responded to the era’s anti-tax orthodoxy (which remains a powerful force today with the Tea Party) by urging that “the tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” Pope Benedict XVI denounced the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in his 2008 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and called for a more just distribution of wealth. And last week’s Vatican document, widely covered in the US media, spoke clearly about “the primacy of being over having,” of “ethics over the economy” and of “embracing the logic of the global common good.

The Vatican’s complete document can be found here or here.  This document is an analysis of the moral failing behind the current economic crisis.  Even more—signed by the Council’s head, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and by its secretary, Bishop Mario Toso—the document charts what might be called a “Catholic way forward” from the present morass.  To read an interesting analysis of the document, read Professor Steve Schneck’s article, The Vatican’s Breathtakingly good Statement on Economics .

George Weigel and other conservative Catholic commentators who have arrogantly dismissed Church teaching on economic justice and income inequality for years should dust off their copies of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Compendium is clear that “the Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be accessible to all.” It points out that the Church has “never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable” – insisting that a “universal destination of goods” is inextricably linked with a “preferential option for the poor.”

As Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University has frequently pointed out, the Vatican’s consistent calls for a radical rethinking of global capitalism is far to the left of the most progressive Democrat in Congress.  While this causes heartburn for those self-styled defenders of orthodoxy on the Catholic right who think they have a monopoly on Catholic identity, it just might be the kind of moral medicine we need today.”

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Fair Trade – Alternative Shopping

By Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Did you know that October is Fair Trade Month?  While it seems too early, we will soon be considering what to give as Christmas gifts. Many of us will make donations to worthy causes or organizations in someone’s honor, others of us want to give actual gifts.  If you are among the latter, do you consider giving a fair trade gift — a gift that ensures the artisan or producer gets a fair price for their product?  Fair trade means creating sustainable and positive change. When items are fairly traded it means that partners participate in a system that aims to pay fair wages, creates long-term, direct trading relationships based on dialogue, transparency,  equity, and respect.

Fair trade began modestly in the 1940s when a few, small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty-stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets. Fair trade  is not about charity. It uses a fair system of exchange to empower artisans and producers to develop their own businesses and foster sustainable development. It is a holistic approach to trade and development that aims to alter the ways in which commerce is conducted,  so that trade can empower the poorest of the poor.

Today,  Fair Trade is a global effort. Fair trade is a system of exchange that seeks to create greater equity and partnership in the international trading system by providing fair wages in the local context, supporting safe, healthy, and participatory workplaces, supplying financial and technical support to build capacity,  promoting environmental sustainability, respecting cultural identity, offering public accountability and transparency, building direct and long-term relationships and educating consumers.

Purchasing partners follow a set of internationally-accepted fair trade principles and practices that are designed to improve the livelihood of low-income people through alternative trade.  Products are purchased at prices set by the artisan, producer or farmer partners. Younger groups are assisted to learn costing that takes into account all the time and materials used in the process.  Usually, the purchasing partner pays for international shipping, customs fees, warehouse rent, product development and other forms of assistance, marketing, customer service, fulfillment, discounts for resellers and more.

Some important aspects of Fair Trade are funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects. All over the world funds are used to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities. Purchasing partners don’t pretend to know what’s best for each community, they enable a democratic system where each individual or community determines how their funds are used.

The World Fair Trade Organization has established the following principles that Fair Trade organizations use to guide their day-to-day work:  developing transparent and accountable relationships, creating opportunities for economically and socially disadvantaged producers, building capacity, paying promptly and fairly, assuring gender equity, supporting safe and empowering working conditions, ensuring the rights of children, cultivating environmental stewardship, and building trade relationships based on   solidarity, trust and mutual respect.

Fair Trade Federation (FTF) members foster partnerships with producers, because they know these connections are a highly effective way to help producers help themselves.  Fair Trade Organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change in developing and developed countries.

Consumers can enliven developing countries, relieve exploitation, and promote environmental sustainability by purchasing Fair Trade-labeled items such as tea, cocoa, herbs, olive oil, clothing and accessories, decorative items, wine, and a wide variety of other products.  Some examples of stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area are the Roasterie in Kansas City, MO; Ten Thousand Villages in Overland Park, KS; World’s Window in Kansas City, MO; and Parisi Artisan Coffee in Kansas City, MO

A recent excerpt from a special article by Matthew Bolton, in The Examiner, Independence, MO stated:

“As consumer demand for ethically-produced goods increases, we’re able to chip away at the cycle of poverty that grips farming communities around the world,” said Paul Rice, president Fair Trade USA.

Through their participation in Fair Trade, farming families have earned more than $220 million in additional income since 1998, $56 million of which will be invested specifically in community development programs that provide access to education and life-saving health care.”

Some consumers express concerns that Fair Trade products will be more expensive than ordinary ones. However, this is not always the case.  ‘Most fair trade products are competitively priced in relation to their conventional counterparts,’ says the Fair Trade Federation. Fair trade organizations work directly with producers, cutting out exploitative middlemen, so they can keep products affordable for consumers and return a greater percentage of the price to the producers.’

There are a variety of businesses in the Independence and Kansas City region that stock Fair Trade products.  The Roasterie, which has three locations in Kansas City and sells beans to local grocery stores, has an organic line of products that are Fair Trade Certified. One of their buyers is One More Cup, a coffee shop in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City which exclusively serves Fair Trade Organic coffee.  ‘It was just really important to us – it seemed to be the right thing to do. You want to support people getting fair prices for their products,’ Stacy Neff, One More Cup’s co-owner, told me.”

If your local grocery store or coffee shop does not stock Fair Trade products, consider speaking to the manager and asking them to stock a Fair Trade option. For more information about Fair Trade, go here.

Part 2 of this series in November will focus on some of the Fair Trade stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area. 

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