For nearly a decade, Kathryn Keller has volunteered her spare time to help countless individuals she will likely never meet.
Keller, a Glen Ellyn resident, works for free at least 10 hours every week at . It looks like any other storefront in downtown Glen Ellyn but its business model is quite different from the other neighboring stores. The shop, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, imports handmade items from artisans around the world and all the proceeds go to support those craft workers in need. Most of the artisans have varying disabilities that make it difficult to survive in developing countries and rely on the income from the North American stores.
"As far as helping people I'll never see, I think I've lead a very blessed life, and once I read about some of the artisans who are not so blessed, how could I not do something to help them?” asked Keller. “Many of the artisans we work with are women or people who would be underemployed or unemployed in their county because of various handicapping conditions."
Glen Ellyn's is one store in a large network of nonprofit shops geared toward helping artisans around the globe while promoting fair trade.
“When we create a connection or a contract with an artisan, we make sure that the wage that they are paid allows them to do things like put adequate food on their table and provide an education for their kids,” said assistant manager Debbi Daniel-Wayman. “Because we've grown so much, the artisans are organized into cooperatives. They're often families and people living in neighborhoods who work together to create things that we sell. Those cooperatives provide things such as, water systems and health insurance.”
By having committed volunteers like Keller work at the nonprofit stores, the prices stay low, allowing all the profits to be funneled back to the artisans. Cashing in on their wares is critical for the artisans in developing countries, explained Daniel-Wayman. She said some Americans may not realize that those with disabilities living in poor countries often do not have rights and protections, like those here in the United States.
“In poor countries, they are the poorest of the poor because people won't hire them so they don't have the opportunities that they would have here,” said Daniel-Wayman. “Fair Trade is one of the ways that those folks can earn even a basic living.”
Both Keller and Daniel-Wayman receive satisfaction in helping these various nonprofits.
“One of the things that's really nice about working here it makes it easy to live this phrase from the 1960s 'think locally, act globally,'” Daniel-Wayman said. “Here we are in the middle of suburban Glen Ellyn but by volunteering or even making purchases here, you're helping to fight poverty around the globe. We have a lot of power in our purchasing and it's nice to be able to use it.”