By Michelle Scott Okabayashi*
August 30, 2012—Ten years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partnered with Equal Exchange, a cooperative that distributes fairly traded goods. “The reason we embarked on the partnership with Equal Exchange was because they embodied the commitment to supporting small-scale farmers,” explains June H. Kim, UMCOR Hunger and Poverty executive who helped initiate the partnership.
“For us, it was a social justice issue,” explains Kim. “Equal Exchange created a forum for denominations to bring fair-trade issues to our attention.”
It was 2002 when UMCOR joined Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Program, which today consists of 12 partners and 11,000 congregations. Through this program, called “The UMCOR Coffee Project ,” United Methodists can purchase coffee and other fairly traded goods to support both the producers of these products and the UMCOR Sustainable Agriculture and Development (SA&D) program.
To celebrate a decade of partnership, UMCOR and Equal Exchange have developed Hope’s Blend, an UMCOR fellowship coffee, a new product that will be available this fall. Hope’s Blend consists of Latin American coffees in 14-ounce cans of drip ground coffee.
Fifteen cents for every pound of product purchased, including Hope’s Blend, is given to UMCOR to support programs that help rural farmers in Africa. Over the course of the partnership $160,000 has been raised for SA&D projects. In 2011, United Methodists purchased more than 133,000 pounds of fairly traded goods through Equal Exchange, amounting to $20,000 for UMCOR SA&D projects. This is in addition to ensuring that the producers of these goods also received a fair wage for their work.
Sandra Pascoe Robinson from Bemidji United Methodist Church, a congregation that participates in the UMCOR Coffee Project explains: “You don’t have to go to Nicaragua; you don’t have to go to Africa; you don’t have to go to India to do mission work. You can do mission work every morning when you make your pot of coffee. It’s mission in a cup.”
United Methodists can now purchase a wide variety of goods through Equal Exchange as well. Ten years ago the only offerings were coffee and tea. Now you can purchase coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, olive oil, almonds, sugar, and Geobars—a snack bar made from fairly traded goods—through the UMCOR Coffee Project.
Learn more and order fairly traded goods for your family, church, or fellowship group through Equal Exchange. You can also support small-scale farmers through UMCOR’s SA&D program by giving to UMCOR Advance #982188.
*Michelle Scott Okabayashi is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.