Posts Tagged kansas city

Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri: It’s Not Just for Lawyers

By Blake Heath, Chair of the Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri

Since September of 2011, I have had the privilege of serving as the chair for the newly formed Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri (YPB).  The goal of the YPB is to support the mission and programs of Legal Aid of Western Missouri through social events, fundraising initiatives, and community outreach efforts.  Many people are unfamiliar with the work that Legal Aid does or they assume that the organization is just a bunch of lawyers so there is no need or way for them to get involved.  The YPB hopes to spread the message of what Legal Aid does and to change the perception that the organization is just for lawyers.   Below is more information about the YPB and a brief description of some of the work we have done and will be doing in the future.

In December of 2010, the staff at Legal Aid put together a small focus group of various young professionals in the Kansas City area to explore ways Legal Aid could raise awareness about the mission of Legal Aid, recruit volunteers, and raise financial support.  Legal Aid recognized that older more established attorneys made up the majority of its volunteer and financial support base.  Legal Aid wanted to expand that base to younger individuals, and Legal Aid wanted to find support outside the legal profession.  After several more meetings, the YPB was officially formed to help Legal Aid recruit young professionals willing to further the mission of Legal Aid.

While Legal Aid’s primary purpose is to provide access to the legal system for clients who are normally shutout of the legal system, the work has a much deeper impact on our community.  For instance, Legal Aid is a leader in converting abandoned properties in the urban core of Kansas City into occupied, high quality housing.  Every year, their Economic Development team works with the City and other not-for-profit agencies to bring litigation that brings 80-100 abandoned properties up to code.  Legal Aid’s work in obtaining Protective Orders and divorces for hundreds of victims of domestic violence every year has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of stopping the cycle of violence.  And, every year they get hundreds of people who are permanently and totally disabled access to long-term, pro-active medical care by getting them onto Medicaid when their benefits have been wrongly denied or terminated.

To help support these programs and the mission of Legal Aid, the YPB has been active since its formation in September of 2011.  We have participated in the annual Party with a Purpose, held informational sessions where Legal Aid staff attorneys described their practice areas, assisted with the construction of a one-of-its-kind playground for children with disabilities, and participated in the Run for Justice 5K put on by the Lawyers Association of Kansas City.  In addition to these events, we will be sponsoring a charity bingo event this summer, we have tables for our members at the Legal Aid Justice for All luncheon, we will promote and participate in Legal Aid’s annual golf tournament, and in the fall we will travel to rural Lafayette County Missouri to volunteer with Legal Aid’s Migrant Farm Workers Project Monday Night Outreach.

If you would like to find out more about the YPB or any of our upcoming events, then please feel free to contact me at  You can also find us on Facebook at Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

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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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The Affordable Care Act

March 27, 2012

By:  Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Editor of KC Olive Branch and Justice Coordinator, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community

The Affordable Care Act was passed as a reform law that would require all insurance plans to cover preventive care at no cost.  This included free check-ups, free mammograms, immunizations and other basic services.  This is important because many women cannot afford these basic preventive health care services; and it saves lives and money –- for families, for businesses, for government, for everybody.  It is a lot cheaper to prevent an illness than to treat one.

It included, based on a recommendation from the experts at the Institute of Medicine, women’s preventive care should include coverage of contraceptive services such as birth control.  In addition to family planning, doctors often prescribe contraception as a way to reduce the risks of ovarian and other cancers, and treat a variety of different ailments.

Because some religious institutions, particularly those affiliated with the Catholic Church, have a religious objection to directly providing insurance that covers contraceptive services for their employees, the original bill exempted all churches from this requirement -– an exemption that eight states didn’t already have.

In February, 2012, compromise rule was enacted.  Under the compromise rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services, no matter where they work.  So that core principle remains.  But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.

The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly.  These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services.  But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services their insurance companies pay for; and they’ll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.

Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.   We live in a pluralistic society where we’re not going to agree on every single issue, or share every belief.  That doesn’t mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans.

To overturn the Affordable Care Act to rid it of the contraception mandate, for which there is now a workable compromise, will endanger thousands of Americans.  Those already covered under the Affordable Care Act will lose their coverage.  This includes children up to age 26 who are now able to remain on their parents’ insurance, children with pre-existing conditions, restrictions to participation in Medicaid programs and the like.  It would further penalize the most vulnerable among us.  Many not-for-profit organizations who serve the poor support the Affordable Care Act for this reason.  Is it not our moral responsibility to provide for the most vulnerable among us?



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An Invitation to hear Father Roy Bourgeois in Kansas City

Note:  the following is taken from a letter sent by local event organizers to Call to Action (CTA) members and others. The letter was sent to CTA members and others known to be open to goodness and courage in the Kansas City metropolitan area.  For goodness and courage are surely the combination that Father Roy Bourgeois, MM brings to every place he visits with his message that Catholic women who are called to priestly ordination should not be denied that Sacrament.  As Father Roy says, “To deny ordination to women is sexism, and sexism, like racism, is a sin.” 

As you know, Father Bourgeois has put at risk his priesthood, his inclusion in the Catholic community, his standing as a member of the Maryknoll Order, his reputation– just about everything of value that he holds dear — to bear witness to this message, which his conscience has compelled him to promulgate.  For his efforts, he has been threatened by the Vatican with excommunication, expulsion from Maryknoll, removal from the priesthood, and likely other forms of censure and/or exclusion.  He is resisting with all the powers of Canon Law, with the Rev. Thomas Doyle as his counsel.  His defense is primacy of conscience.  We might ask is his fight our fight?

Father Roy will spend the weekend of April 26-27 in the Heart of America.  Organizers of his visit are hoping to get him a spot on Steve Kraske’s Up to Date on April 27.   An op-ed piece has been submitted to the KC Star as well as a blurb for the Faith Calendar.  This calendar notice should appear the Saturday before the event on April 27.

Father Roy will speak at Colonial Church of Prairie Village under CTA sponsorship on Friday evening, April 27, at 7:00 p.m. and at First Congregational Church in Topeka at 9:00 a.m. April 28 at the invitation of Catholics for Renewal there. We will also be showing the powerful new documentary, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, both places.  This is a documentary about women’s ordination as priests.

For additional information, call 913-432-3675.

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Aim4Peace: Who are they and what is their mission?

Editor’s Note:  Information for this article was taken from Aim4Peace website, brochure, and from conversation at the screening of the film, “The Interrupter.”

 Aim4Peace Mission

Aim4Peace aims to increase the community’s ability to handle disputes nonviolently.  Aim4Peace is the movement to stop the shooting and killing.

How Aim4Peace Works

Aim4Peace is an evidence-based health approach to reduce shootings and homicides. Aim4Peace uses highly trained violence interrupters and outreach staff, public education campaigns, Neighborhood Action Teams and community mobilization to reverse the violence epidemic in Kansas City, Missouri. Aim4Peace focuses on the neighborhood factors that most often contribute to violent crime, helping those who are considered at highest risk of committing offenses due to their living or employment situation.

About Aim4Peace
The Aim4Peace program began in 2008 and was originally based on the Ceasefire: Stop the Shooting project in Chicago. Aim4Peace currently focuses on the Police Department’s East Patrol Division, one of Kansas City’s highest crime neighborhoods.  They model behavior modification techniques for those individuals who are ready to change. With continued success the plan will be implemented throughout the City in the future. Aim4Peace is committed to making neighborhoods safer. The Aim4Peace: Violence Prevention Project is a division of the Kansas City, Missouri Health Depart­ment. They are focused on Kansas City’s highest crime neighborhoods.

Aim4Peace sponsors all the programs below.
The Aim4Peace Life Skills Learning Program works to prevent school delinquency and drop-outs, supporting community actions to keep students in school. Aim4Peace offers both community and school-based courses:

  • Life Skills courses (grades 5-12 and ages 19-40)
  • Delinquency prevention
  • Personal development
  • Education about the dangers of involvement in gangs and/or street organizations

The Job Readiness and Anger Management programs are four-week courses held every month. Job Readiness helps participants prepare for obstacles that can happen when they enter the workforce, providing tips for keeping and maintaining steady employment. The Anger Management course focuses on problem solving, communication skills, personal qualities, money management and budgeting, and work ethics. These courses are open to the community.
Through the Job Fair Initiative, Aim4Peace has helped more than 400 residents seeking employment by connecting them with local employers and specialized skill or trade educational institutions. At the events, Aim4Peace also provided information on housing assistance and resume building, conducted mock interviews and linked attendees with local social service agencies.

Through the Hospital Prevention Program, workers respond to gunshot and violence-related trauma situations, intervene in conflicts and aim to prevent further violence. Working with emergency department staff, Aim4Peace reaches out to community members who are most at risk of being involved in future shootings.

Other Aim4Peace participant services include:
Customized one-on-one case management using risk reduction plans to offer long-term solutions to help clients step out of the high-risk lifestyles

  • Workforce counseling
  • Youth, adult and parent mentoring
  • Advocacy and support
  • Human and social support services
  • Transportation to classes, job interviews and employment
  • Access to employment resources and educational institutions

The Aim4Peace mission is to increase the capacity of the community to handle its own disputes and empower citizens through community mobilization to peacefully resolve their conflicts.  The group is based on Ceasefire, an anti-violent crime organization in Chicago.  Aim4Peace is a community-based violence prevention program that uses data-driven interventions to reduce retaliatory and gang-related violence.

Aim4Peace has sponsored the powerful and inspiring film “The Interrupters.”  This film tells the moving and surprising story of three Chicago CeaseFire ‘violence interrupt­ers’ who with bravado, humility and even humor try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed.   A staffer at Kartemquin Films, the promoter of this documentary, said:  “This film spotlights the passionate efforts of three violence interrupters over the course of a year.”

As a national partner of the CeaseFire program, Aim4Peace is based on the same model replicated in the movie. For more information about Aim4Peace and the film “The Interrupt­ers,” please contact Aim4Peace at the addresses below.

For more information, visit, call 816-513-7902, or write You can also view a powerful video here.

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Why I Sit and Eat with our Guests: A Reflection on Breaking Bread at Holy Family House

by Rachel Hoffman

Thursday, January 20, 2011

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

As Christians, we strive to follow in the example of Jesus during the Last Supper – as he shared himself deeply in the breaking of the bread.  I am bold in saying that we attempt to the do same during supper time at Holy Family House.  We spend hours planning menus, sorting food, rinsing fruit and veggies, cooking meals, serving meals, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Indeed, our work centers on this sacred act of eating- this is how we recognize each other.  I have learned that sharing a common meal, sitting down face to face with a volunteer or guest, is the easiest way to see Christ in another.  This is when I hear about a new job or place to stay, an ill friend or relative, worries and joys.

But we are at Holy Family House to serve, right?  There isn’t enough food to go around, is there?  I have food at home, can’t I just wait till I get home?  I’m so different than the guests, will we have anything to talk about?  I feel guilty about how much I have and how little the guests have, isn’t it just easier to keep my distance?  Whatever your reasons are- we ask that you take a leap of faith with us and join in the breaking of the bread.  Listening is a form of ministry, there’s plenty of food to go around, just take some salad and sit down if you’re not hungry, and we promise there are plenty of things that you have in common with anyone who walks through our door—we are all human after all!

We at Holy Family House are hoping that people from all walks of life can build relationships with one another, understand in little ways how we each think and feel, enjoy each other’s company and in the words of co-founder Dorothy Day; “build a new society out of the old.”  This means doing things differently than we have in the past, sharing resources and time, and interacting in new ways.

So please, humor us- take a break from serving and sit down in our dining room during supper time.  Strike up a conversation, or eat slowly in silence.  Just be with us and our guests in a new way.   We look forward to breaking bread with you soon.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”  Corinthians 10:16




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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 or 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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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 ( 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

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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Fair Trade – Alternative Shopping

By Jeanne Christensen, RSM

In  October, we discussed Fair Trade as an alternative shopping option and we noted that we would offer some ideas and  stores for you to consider. What seemed too early last month is now a reality – Christmas is just over a month away. As Christmas is the season of gift-giving, we will soon be considering our 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, would 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. For those who live in the Kansas City metropolitan area, the following is a list of ideas for purchasing a great gift while helping to contribute positively to the world at the same time:

Ten Thousand Villages at 7947 Santa Fe Drive in downtown Overland Park, Kansas offers gifts from around the world, knowing that the fair market prices empower artisans and producers from third world countries. Of special note is that Ten Thousand Villages has a holiday tradition of offering local not-for-profit organizations 15% of all sales made on Sunday afternoons before Christmas. This is an opportunity to not only shop but to enjoy reconnecting with friends, learning about the not-for-profit who is benefiting and to enjoy light refreshments.

Two of those benefiting are: Keeler Women’s Center which empowers women in the urban core of Kansas City through education, advocacy, personal and spiritual development. Their Sunday benefit is November 27 from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. The Migrant Farmworkers Project’s (MFP) benefit is Sunday, December 4 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. MFP works in solidarity with seasonal and migrant farmworkers to obtain a healthier, more secure, and more fulfilling life. MFP offers them social, legal, health care and educational services. MFP feels closely connected to the fair trade imperative because the Lafayette County farmworkers whom they serve are exactly the kind of people who have been displaced by global free market practices. On one hand, MFP supports fair trade to keep workers in developing economies at work. On the other hand, they want to support the farmworkers they know so well who have been forced out of their home countries.
KC Organics and Natural Market is hosting a fair trade event on Saturday, December 10 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This Market will be held at Notre Dame de Sion High School at 10631 Wornall Road, ¼ mile South of I-435. There will be locally produced holiday gifts, including baked goods, seasonal produce, body care products, gift baskets, hand-made eco-cards, wreaths, fair trade coffee and more.

1st Baptist Church of Kansas City, MO offers Equal Exchange fair trade items – coffee, tea, chocolate, coca, and sugar. They are located at 100 W. Red Bridge Road, KCMO. For details, call 816-942-1866.

Both The Roasterie and Parisi Artisan Coffee purchase all of their coffees directly from the producers. They prefer to go to the origin, assess the product offered, make arrangements for purchase and shipment, and pay the farmer a fair price directly. Both also offer an organic line of products and both sell select blends of coffees at Costco. The Roasterie has three locations in Kansas City, sells beans to local grocery stores, and has a line of products that are Fair Trade Certified. Parisi Artisan Coffee also seeks to directly assess  the growers’ commitment to employing sustainable farming practices.

Lastly, the Fair Trade Holiday Market in Lawrence, KS that will open November 27 and 28 from 8a.m. to 7p.m. and again from November 29 to December 3 from 10a.m. to 7p.m. It is located at Ecumenical Christian Ministries 1204 Oread Ave, Lawrence, KS. The Market offers fairly traded arts and crafts from local and international artisans that make unique holiday gifts. It is organized by Lawrence Fair Trade, a community group dedicated to raising awareness of global economic injustice and working to establish sustainable solutions.
Also, donations can be given in a person’s name as an alternative gift to local and national organizations such as UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, Amethyst Place in Kansas City, Center of Concern, Keeler Center, OxFam, Amnesty International, Migrant Farmworkers Project, The Justice Project in Kansas City, Sleeyphead Beds, St. James Place on Troost, or any not-for-profit of your choice. The needs are great and monetary gifts are always welcome. You can also support or find gifts online through organizations like Catholic Relief Services, namely their Work of Human Hands project, or Equal Exchange.

You might also contact the organization of your choice to find out what their needs are. A great example is our Catholic Worker Houses – Holy Family, Cherith Brook or Shalom. Their needs are especially great when it’s cold; blankets, coats, hats, gloves, and thermal underwear are just a few. Make a donation of needed goods in honor of a friend or family member.

Shop at locally-owned businesses such as Rainy Day Books in Fairway, KS, World’s Window or Stuff in Brookside rather than big-box stores. Gift cards to locally-owned and operated restaurants such as The Westside Local and Chez Elle on the Westside, Pot Pie or Teahouse and Coffeepot in Westport, or Eden’s Alley in Unity Temple on the Plaza  are also good options. Another avenue to explore is purchasing only Made in the USA products.
There are many more alternatives for Christmas gifts. We know we have not included them all. If you have one or more you want us to know about please send them to, and we will include them in the December edition of the KC Olive Branch.

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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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