Step inside its 1,300-square foot store at Grand Central Plaza, 2055 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids, and customers can feast on an array of Fair Trade-certified merchandise made from around the world — around 30 nations total.
Such handmade products are lifting people who live in developing countries out of abject poverty by paying them livable wages for the products they craft.
Fair Trade makes is possible
They earn livable wages because of international Fair Trade agreements that is verified through the Fair Trade Federation, said store manager Jessica Riley, the store's sole paid employee. A rotating cadre of 40 volunteers staff Global Gifts.
"We are a nonprofit, Fair Trade store that purchases products made from artisans living in the developing world," Riley said. "They get paid a fair wage that pulls themselves out of poverty."
That aspect is important since around 70 percent of people living in economic hardship worldwide are women, many who are the sole wage earners of their families due to single motherhood, becoming widowed or because their husbands abandoned them, Riley said.
The profits they earn from the wares they sell enable them to gain access to medical care, nutritious food, and education for their children, and avoid being forced into the sex trade.
"The misconception is Fair Trade is charity and you're getting subpar products," Riley said. Not true. It's a much better quality than you can find in big box merchandisers."
Don't pooh-pooh this paper
Better quality and in at least one case, unique. Global Gifts sells eco-friendly paper made in Sri Lanka from — what else? — elephant dung. It's sanitized, of course, before it ends up at Global Gifts. Buying the paper comes with a lesson about why forests should not be cut down to grow rice crops and the need to end the killing of the pachyderms.
Customers also will see for sale sandals from Honduras, fruit jam from Swaziland, hand woven baskets from Ghana, oil table clothes from Mexico, Nativity sets from Haiti, Poland and elsewhere, as well as an assortment of sculptures, jewelry, cutting boards, purses, cake plates, bowls, wallets and pictures frames from Guatemala, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Jordan, Cameroon and other far-flung parts of the world.
"One reason for the store is to educate the community about Fair Trade," Riley said.
"This is a great place where people of different denominations come here with a community spirit."
And that community spirit is engendering a caring attitude about people from around the world that residents from Greater Grand Rapids will likely never meet.
Love thy neighbor
"This store is based on the Christian principle of loving thy neighbor," Riley said. "People around the world live in such abject poverty. They live on a dirt floor. They don't have enough to eat. They never see a doctor. We can do something about that. We have to act upon it."
Global Gifts has been "acting on it" since 1986 when Vonnie Poortenga, Marilyn Bratt and Elaine VanKlew from Calvin Christian Reformed Church founded the store, initially at a different location. Calvin CRC owns Global Gifts.
The store sells an annual average of $150,000 of merchandise, Riley said. After covering its own expenses, a yearly average of $85,000 is then funneled to the artisans living in the developing nations where the products are made.
That's a significant amount where in some parts of the world, earning $50 a week is a living wage, according to Riley.
Since the store's founding, it's built a customer base who know the artisans craft durable, attractive products, Riley said.
"Our customers trust us," Riley said. "We show pictures of our artisans so customers know they are part of something bigger."
Fair Trade Federation