Fair Trade Market held at St Paul’s United Methodist Church Sunday

A Hmong woman shows off her craft. Photo provided by Katie Loveland

St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Helena is giving the community an alternative resource for holiday shopping this weekend. The church is holding its 5th annual Fair Trade Market on Sunday. The market gathers venders from around the state selling crafts from around the world. The proceeds from the sale of these products go directly back to the producers, often living in impoverished areas. The market will be selling a variety of arts, crafts, food and clothing.

In a Hmong village in Southeast Asia there sits a particular hut.

“At this hut, the lead woman brought all the other women in the village and you know, they don’t read but they’re given these packages of fabric and they have a pattern on them,” said Helena resident Katie Loveland. “A very intricate pattern. They don’t have any rulers or anything they just are able to cut and sew by hand these beautiful products.”

A while back, Loveland decided she wanted more of an international flair in her life. She joined a Livingston Based Group called Mercy market.

“So basically, we just partner with organizations anywhere in the world who work with women, children in desparate poverty,” Loveland said.

People like those in the Hmong village nestled in the Laos countryside. The organizations Mercy Market partners with provide the craftsmakers in these foreign places with what Loveland calls a dignified way to make a living. Mercy Market then imports the crafts and sells them here in Montana.

The St. Paul’s Fair Trade Market Sunday in Helena brings together a bunch of groups like Mercy Market to sell their wares together in one place. Organizer Al Beaver says this event has grown a lot over the last five years, starting with maybe a half dozen venders “and now we’ve got 18 and we’re running out of room.”

He’s brought over this whole collection of the kinds of things that will be available at the event.

This vibrant green yellow and purple woven purse with handles and a button.

“These bags are made from recycled plastic bags. They are materials the women can get easily and work with well,” Beaver said.

He had a wicker-looking African Bowl, stone bookends and carved wooden figures. Beaver says the fair trade organizations at the fair often work by cutting out the middleman. Most of the money made from the sale goes right to the producers.

“There are people who live so marginally, they are working to have food for their families.”

He says those funds can make all the difference in the world.

“They can send their kids to school, they can pay for the medical needs they and their children have. This is major for these people,” Beaver said.

Mercy Market’s Katie Loveland says she watched the craftswomen in that village laughing with the organization buying their products and even negotiating. Mercy Market had been selling hot pads and bags from the village for years.

“It was so fun to hug them and say ‘women in America love your bags, they love your hot pads and they would smile,” Loveland said. “You could tell it really made their day. You know, they’ve never left their country and they probably never will. But, to know their product is getting sold is pretty cool.”

As this holiday shopping season ramps up, it’s important to remember sometimes the act of buying something is itself the gift.

The Fair Trade Market runs from 9 AM to 3 PM Sunday at St Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena.

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