There’s one store in Liberty, Missouri, where Becky Gossett cannot resist making a purchase whenever she is there.
And she’s always there.
“I go in a lot and I can’t go in without buying stuff,” Gossett said.
But those spending sprees are not the kind that result in guilt-driven product returns, Gossett said, because the small store at 20 N. Leonard St. is the Many Hands Fair Trade Shop, which is a ministry of Second Baptist Church.
Gossett, who’s a member of the church and a passionate supporter of fair-trade artisans around the world, feels good about the buys she’s made at the shop since it opened three years ago.
“It’s a totally different feeling” than shopping at other retailers, she said.
The inspiration for the shop is Gwen Phillips, the children’s pastor at Second Baptist. She, in turn, was inspired by another church-based store.
“I saw a fair-trade shop in Tennessee and fell in love with it,” she said.
That sighting clicked with a long-held calling to support hard-working people around the planet.
“I’ve always had a passion for things from around the world and empowering people around the world,” she said.
Second Baptist owns a nearby property that worked perfectly as a store front.
Many Hands was launched quietly by word-of-mouth and has blossomed into a one-of-a-kind store in the area. It operates on Saturdays and one Friday a month from mid-March to mid-December.
Phillips said she addresses local organizations on fair-trade practices and their availability at the store.
There’s a simple message that seems to always hook them.
“When you’re buying a gift in a fair-trade shop, you are helping someone else,” she said.
Many Hands keeps the process simple. It purchases from trusted fair-trade vendors, like serrv and Equal Exchange, that have already paid artisans for their products. All store profits are used to purchase more merchandise, Phillips said. Volunteers run the store.
“That way we can sell anything from Swahili materials to Holy Land crafts to art imports from all over the world,” she said.
Many Hands also has direct relationships with some of the overseas people who provide it with items, including women who sew quilts in Romania.
Shoppers like knowing they are contributing to a trade that doesn’t involve toxic materials, child-labor or sweatshops.
Phillips said the experience is a spiritual one for her.
“It helps me to know that in a tiny, tiny way I can help make a difference for people around the globe.”
And given the simplicity of the operation, she said it’s an idea just about any church could develop.
“It is something a little church can do,” she said, adding she has “no business sense.”
But it does help to have a Suzie Goertz around.
Goertz is a Second Baptist member and a regular shop volunteer who provides the bookkeeping for the enterprise.
“Gwen has the vision and I am the one who helps with the finances,” Goertz said.
But that’s no sacrifice or difficulty because involvement with Many Hands constitutes ministry work, she said.
“God told us to love and I think we can do that by helping our fellow person,” she said. “In this way we can help people make money for their families.”
In the communities where the products originate, she said, parents can feed their families, send their children to school and help their neighbors.
“This is a cool way to do that,” Goertz said. “We get neat stuff to sell and buy ourselves and help our friends, too.”
Goertz said she loves the tea and olive oil she regularly purchases at Many Hands, as well as the strips of metal from 55-gallon drums imprinted with Bible verses, which come from Haiti.
“In my kitchen right now, I have one that says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” she said.
The shop offers a wide array of products from artisans in 20-30 nations. Goods include coffees, teas, clothing and accessories. Baskets, jewelry, hot pads, quilts and numerous pieces of art also are sold.
As a shopper and gift-giver, Gossett said one of the benefits of fair-trade products is their uniqueness. That comes in very handy when going to baby showers, weddings or graduation parties.
“I know it’s something they are not going to get from anyone else,” Gossett said.
That’s also what she likes when buying for herself. Gossett said she’s purchased earrings, pottery bowls, coffee mugs, scarves and more from the shop – items she’s seen nowhere else.
“You just know you are doing something good for someone when you make a purchase – and these are items you can’t get in those other commercial types of places.”