Holiday shopping that helps others

St. Kateri Tekakwitha hosts its annual Fair Trade Market on Saturday
Diane Yoder, Brenda Rosenbaum and Elain Bair display and discuss some of the items available for sale at Saturday's market.
Diane Yoder, Brenda Rosenbaum and Elain Bair display and discuss some of the items available for sale at Saturday's market.

Brenda Rosenbaum and her friends believe in fair deals – for both manufacturers and customers.

“Fair trade is a system of trade that puts the producers before the profits,” said Rosenbaum, founder of Mayan Hands – one of 11 groups that will be represented at Saturday’s annual Fair Trade Market in Niskayuna.

Clothing, scarves, napkins, table runners, jewelry, baskets, coffee and chocolate – all handmade by artisans who live in impoverished countries – will be among items offered for sale inside the school gymnasium at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, 1801 Union St.

The market will begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.

“We take care of the producers’ needs,” said Rosenbaum, who lives in Albany but grew up in Guatemala, where 200 women are in the Mayan Hands system. “You know how they criticize factories in China or the Third World where the producers are making pennies and they’re living a life of extreme poverty – that’s your normal kind of mainstream trade.

“In fair trade, we’re concerned about the well being of the producers,” Rosenbaum added. “Is the woman making this runner earning enough for a livelihood or is she starving?”

Elaine Bair, who runs the church social justice ministry that sponsors the market, said fair trade also provides a market for goods created.

“They don’t have access to a big market,” Bair said. “By working with agencies like Mayan Hands or others that are on the list, we are able to offer both lovely things to our shoppers but also provide that market for their goods so they can make that income.”

Merchants on this year’s market include creations from artists who live in Cambodia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Vietnam, among others.

“Most, if not all of the vendors, will be able to produce information about the people who make the products,” said Diane Yoder, who coordinates the sale and also works as operations manager for Mayan Hands. “Our products are signed by the women who make them.”

Yoder believes shoppers are looking for goods that are not mass produced – and looking for a system where weavers, jewelers, food producers and other artists are property compensated for their work.

“I think there’s a movement toward conscious consumerism, which I think fair trade is a part of,” Yoder said. “It’s shopping local, small business Saturday. I think all of that is people being more aware of how they spend their dollars.”

“And it’s ethically sourced,” Rosenbaum added. “A lot of people care about the fact that the person who made the product is not being exploited. They’re making an income that supports their family.”

Market items will cost a few dollars up to $60 or $70. For Mayan Hands’ artisans, Capital Region residents who buy their napkins or other woven goods will help those workers earn $60 or $70 a month – a wage better than the few dollars they could be making in a poor country, where there is much competition for goods.

Mayan women work at home, as they care for their children. Sometimes it’s a few hours a day, sometimes it’s longer. And some will earn larger amounts of money.

Mayan Hands is a non-profit group that ships goods to many places. There are expenses for staff members and shipping costs. There are also obligations – besides financial commitments – to the women who make the products.

“We provide scholarships to the women’s daughters,” Yoder said. “We provide workshops to teach them new techniques to develop new products. Fair trade has a holistic relationship with the producers. It’s not just buying the products and that’s the end of the relationship.”

Bair said people who decide to shop fair trade will also have other options for unique Christmas gifts. She said some people are not interested in material gifts anymore – for them, the market will offer shoppers the chances to make donations to worthy charities.

The charities are an orphanage in El Salvador; Nisky NOW (Nutrition on Weekends), a nutrition program for needy children in Niskayuna and Albany Catholic Worker – Emmaus House, which helps people in Albany’s South End.

Bair believes everyone wins with fair trade.

“The market provides an alternative way to shop that encourages a direct beneficial relationship between producers and consumers,” she said. “When you purchase Fair Trade Market items, you are putting Catholic social teaching into action and help support a vision of economic justice.”

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]


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