Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Fair Cup o’ Joe

For me, it began in seminary. My parents had switched churches, and one Sunday night Mom calls me. “Shane, check your mailbox for a package this week.” Ummm, okay Mom, what’s coming? “Coffee,” she said. Coffee? Sure enough, I received a small box with two gold bags of coffee that week. Turns out Mom and Dad’s new church sold coffee. It wasn’t Folgers, though. These were sustainably produced, high quality beans from small farmers in Rwanda, who sold through churches because otherwise, shipping costs were too high to allow access to foreign markets (where real profits were possible). Before this church connection, apparently, they sold locally for much less, and barely survived. So I thought, “How cool! Support your church and poor farmers, drink good coffee, and pay less than you would at the store.” I’ve been thirsty to try ever since…

So imagine my joy in January (I think…) when Donna Jarvi brought to our Mission Gathering some printouts from the Disciples of Christ website, which described a new “Disciples Coffee Project.” This project is a joint effort between the denomination’s relief and disaster response organization Week of Compassion and the world’s largest for-profit fair trade organization, Equal Exchange. What happens is that individual churches purchase coffee, tea, chocolate and other fair trade goods from Equal Exchange, and either use the goods themselves, or re-sell them to parishioners and guests (or both).

We are now doing the latter! We’ve set up a display near the Office and stocked it with coffee. There’s a collection box where, on the honor system, folk can buy bags for $6 each (similar to Mt. Olivet Lutheran, just down Rockford). Here’s why I think it’s a great deal-

1) This program offers us great products cheaply. We can pass along those savings to ourselves and our guests. The result is you buy bags of fair trade, organically grown coffee at church for cheaper than local coffee shops, or even Cub Foods. I know. I’ve looked!

2) This could become a fundraiser. During certain seasons, we might add an extra buck to each bag’s price, and give that ‘profit’ to the youth, or CROP Walk, or…. Even in that scenario, we get great coffee as cheap as Cub Foods, while helping the church, and saving a trip to the store.

3) For every pound of coffee or other products purchased through this program, Equal Exchange donates to Week of Compassion. WoC has created a “Hunger Relief and Food Security Fund” to administer fair trade donations. Our EE/WoC/DoC partnership began in January 2008, and by year’s end had yielded $2000, while purchasing of fair trade products in DoC churches doubled. Outlook for 2009, I’m told, is superb growth.

4) When you buy coffee that’s fairly traded and organically produced, you’re supporting small farmers in developing countries who care for God’s earth and desperately need our support. Equal Exchange pays farm co-ops directly. So we pay less for quality products, and poor farmers receive more. Justice and self-interest wrapped into one.

There you have it! You may have waited months for this announcement, or it may be the first time you’ve heard of it. Whatever the case, I’m glad it’s begun. At present, there’s but a small quantity of two types of coffee. We started small to gauge interest and work out the kinks. But rest assured, when all bags are purchased, the church won’t have lost any money. We’ll have made $.70!

So will your family join mine in buying your coffee from the church? It may take time to get used to, but it sends a good message to guests and ourselves about Christian priorities- We want all our resources to contribute to God’s vision of abundant life for all life, which goes as much for our purchases as it does our tithes and offerings. I hope this will only be the beginning of a long conversation about justice and mercy and loving our neighbors with all we can. If you want, I’ll be excited to talk more about it with you. Give me a call. We’ll go get coffee. In all things,

Grace and Peace,