San Jose church supports global artisans

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Successful Gift Faire critical given poor economy

by Myra Holmes

The annual tradition of one California Mennonite Brethren congregation has become an important support for artisans around the world. For over 20 years, Lincoln Glen MB Church, San Jose, Calif., has hosted the International Gift Faire, a fair trade sale featuring unique handicrafts, jewelry, gifts and household items from Ten Thousand Villages. 

Ten Thousand Villages (TTV), with over 60 years of experience and an annual trade volume in excess of $23 million, has become the oldest and largest fair trade organization in the United States. It is a non-profit job creation and marketing program of Mennonite Central Committee, the peace, relief and service agency of North American Mennonites. 

Marcella Claassen and Evelyn Heinrichs organized the first sale at Lincoln Glen in 1988, taking in $400 in sales. Now the sale annually grosses $70,000 to $90,000, and it has become the largest two-day sale of TTV handicrafts in the U.S. This year’s San Jose sale was especially critical to the artisans’ welfare, since the decreased economy in the U.S. and Canada has resulted in fewer orders for their handicrafts. 

This year’s Faire, held Oct. 9-10, brought in at least 1,400 customers and $74,300 in sales. While that sales figure is down from last year’s $75,000, it beats the 7 percent drop TTV is experiencing nationwide. Profits from the Faire will support the work of 50,000 to 60,000 TTV artisans across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. With the income they earn, artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed are able to provide basic necessities for their families. 

A group of 100 volunteers, chaired by Frances Schroeder, organize Lincoln Glen’s annual sale. Frances’s husband, Del, supervises unpacking of pallets, security and cleanup. Volunteers unpack merchandise and set up tables prior to the sale, serve as floor help and cashiers during the sale and clean up after the sale. 

Enthusiasm for the sale has grown, says Schroeder. “Every year more people become aware of Ten Thousand Villages’ message and mission,” she says. “When people understand the mission of providing jobs and a market for very poor artisans around the world, they want to participate.” 

Information about next year’s sale, scheduled for Oct. 15-16, 2010, will be available as the sale dates approach.

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