When Kathryn Keller received the newsletter from one of her frequented stores years ago, she never dreamed it would turn into such an important part of her life:
“I shopped [at Ten Thousand Villages] regularly, so I got a newsletter from them. One time it was asking for volunteer helpers to cover a Thursday night shift and I thought, ‘I could do that!’ So I did.”
Now, many years later, Keller is acting as a volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit. Last Fall, the coordinator at the time announced her departure and Keller volunteered to step up to the plate.
Volunteer Debbi Daniel-Wayman shared a similar experience in joining the band of volunteers.
“I’ve been an avid shopper at the store since it opened in 1987. I was inspired on a retreat with the Heifer International Organization; we were enlightened to the importance of fair trade and I wanted to support that,” said Daniel-Wayman. “Opening up shipments is fun, it’s like Christmas every day!”
Ms. Daniel-Wayman knew this type of volunteer work was perfect for her.
“I like working with people and there’s really no negatives that I can think of for volunteering here. It’s really fun! I love the connection with fair trade and it’s really the epitome of the Think Global, Act Local concept!”
Ten Thousand Villages is a larger company with its headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania. Founded more than 60 years ago by visionary Edith Ruth Byler. After seeing the poverty in Puerto Rico, she decided to use market-based solutions to help those suffering. Thus began Ten Thousand Villages, whose mission is to, “create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships,” according to the group’s website.
The marketing works a bit differently than one might originally think. The artisans are given 50% of the cost of their creations up front, as a sort of cash advance, and the remaining 50% upon delivery of the product. This helps some of the artisans prepare and plan for future works to be created and sold.
Many of the artisans are women. One group from Nepal has been working with Ten Thousand Villages since 1984. 85 percent of them are women and this type of work allows them an opportunity to bring in an income, and even work from their homes. Most of the artisans are either unemployed or underemployed in their home countries.
“We’ve had to actually convince some of the artisans to raise their prices, just to ensure that it really is a fair trade,” Keller added.
Not all of the artisans are from developing countries. Another group, called Soups of Success, is based in Elkhart, IN. Ten Thousand Villages purchases soup mixes, cookies and dip mixes from them. This group focuses on job training skills for disadvantaged women.
Some groups focus on green projects as well. Oftentimes they use recycled products, sometimes flowers and even orange peels.
Ten Thousand Villages hosts multiple stores, some with different names. In addition to the store locations, sometimes the stores also hold off-site sales. This is where they set up tables and displays at churches, or local colleges, to sell the artisan’s wares.
Every November, The Ewerts—both professors at Wheaton College—empty their home for Ten Thousand Villages to display their carpets and oriental rugs for sale. This year’s event is slated for November 16-19.
Aside from regular stores sales, off-site sales and the oriental rug sale, the Glen Ellyn store also hosts benefit nights for other local community groups. In December, according to Keller, the store hosted benefit nights for the Anima Singers (formerly known as the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus) and another one for Glen Ellyn Youth and Family Counseling. On benefit nights, 20 percent of all sales between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. goes to the program.
The process for volunteering at the Glen Ellyn Ten Thousand Villages store is relatively short. There is a form available (on Patch, or in-store). Once the form is completed, potential volunteers have a short, informal “interview” with Keller, and training begins shortly thereafter. Volunteers are trained in a myriad of store operations that best fit a given volunteer, including running the register, bagging, stocking shelves and unpacking shipments. Volunteers choose their own schedules via a shift sign-up calendar, or e-mail. A typical shift runs for 2-4 hours, depending on the day and times chosen. Those hours tend to increase over the holidays as the store stays open later two extra nights per week.
According to Keller, they are currently looking to fill the assistant manager position, as well as various other volunteer assistance. When asked about pre-requisites for potential volunteers, Keller smiled and said, “anyone who can do it can volunteer. If someone can’t lift a box, we’ll find someone to do it for them. If someone needs to sit down once in a while, we have a seat for them.”
Volunteer Maureen Sickles-Biggs chimed in, “the only real pre-requisite is that you MUST be able to function in a teamwork environment!”
The current volunteer list includes ages from a freshman in high school through some in their 70s. If you’re interested in volunteering to support fair trade, please contact Kathryn Keller at email@example.com.