With a Little Help from Our Friends
Serrv just turned 70! But we sure didn’t do it alone.
This year marks Serrv's 70th year as an organization, and we're proud of the work we've done to fight global poverty during that time. The artisans and farmers who create the beautiful handcrafts and specialized foods we sell are the soul of our business. Their commitment to creating a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities through the work of their hands is the mission of our business.
Serrv employees are the brains of our operation, a committed team of professionals who work together to select, organize, ship, and market our products to customers in the United States and Canada. Our team works tirelessly to get the world's best fair trade handcrafts and foods to you, and they do so with great care and consideration.
But it is your efforts that represent Serrv's heart. We wouldn't be celebrating 70 years in 2019 without the continued support and dedication of you—our volunteers, hosts, shopkeepers, and advocates. Whether you've shared our catalog with a friend, volunteered your time unpacking boxes at our warehouse, hosted a Serrv consignment sale at your church, or spread the word about what we're doing on social media, you are making a difference. And we're so grateful for your help.
We can't tell the story of every one of the many thousands of people who have made such a profound difference to our organization over the past seven decades, but we can tell the stories of a few. Like you, each of these individuals has their own reasons for supporting Serrv's fair trade mission.
If we're going to talk about a single Serrv volunteer, it doesn't hurt to talk about the one who has been volunteering with us for the longest. Sixty years ago, Roger loaded a refurbished school bus with volunteers to help us ship clothing to displaced families abroad, and he's continued to rally volunteers for Serrv ever since.
A retired United Methodist Church pastor, Roger has dedicated his life to serving others. A graduate of the University of Maryland and Gettysburg Theological Seminary, Roger was commissioned in 1962 as a missionary to Nigeria, where he spent six years. His work in Nigeria was varied and took him to all areas of the country, from maintenance work at a hospital to church development and pastoring. He was accompanied by his wife, Sylvia, and five of their eventual six children. Upon his return to the United States, he began work with the Church World Service's CROP program and launched the first CROP Hunger Walk in Keedysville, Marlyand, to fight global hunger. "I believe in the cause. I think we ought to help hungry people, and there's millions of them in the world," he said last year.
His experience working with those in need in Nigeria influenced much of his life's work. His quote from this 1975 article may sum up his philosophy of service best: "Nigeria, and nations like her … desperately needs our help, but no more desperately than we, as the world's most affluent nation, need to help her."
In 2017 alone, more than 1,800 individuals volunteered their time and energy to Serrv, from our warehouse in New Windsor, Maryland, to our store in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about volunteering with Serrv.
Like Roger, longtime Serrv consignment sale host Karen was influenced to serve others by early experiences abroad. A trip to the Middle East with her parents when she was 13 opened her eyes to how others lived. “I saw how everyone did not live as I did,” she recalls. “They didn’t have indoor plumbing or even schooling, things I just assumed everyone had.” She also remembers a friendship made with a young girl on another trip to Egypt. “Even though we couldn’t speak to each other, we still made a connection”
Years later, when she heard about Serrv through her church, she knew that selling handcrafts would be a way to support people in countries like those she had visited, those that did not enjoy the same advantages as those in the United States. She began hosting Serrv consignment sales at Church of the Brethren and at the Brethren Disaster Relief Auction.
A teacher by trade, Karen also began working with children in the local school district who did not speak English as their first language. In working with these children and their parents, she was struck by the fact that these families had left their own countries to pursue a better life and an education for their children. “It didn’t matter what ethnicity they were or what language they spoke. They all loved their kids and wanted something better for them.” She continues to sell for Serrv after all these years because the mission of eradicating poverty where it resides resonates with her—and it reminds her of the families with whom she worked as an educator. “If I sell Serrv items, I help children get educated, I help provide health care, I help families stay together. That is why I support Serrv.”
In 2018, Serrv consignment hosts held 350 sales, selling more than 40,000 fair trade handcrafts and foods, and introducing our products to new audiences nationwide. Learn more about hosting a Serrv sale.
Located in the heart of Louisville's Crescent Hill neighborhood, Just Creations began selling Serrv products when the store opened for business in 1990. A nonprofit retailer, Just Creations has built a committed partnership with Serrv over many years, says Executive Director Joan. “The decision to continue to buy from Serrv comes from our mutual commitment to promoting and supporting the growth of artisan enterprises that enables the artisans to provide for their families, send their kids to school, and contribute to their communities.”
They have a saying at Just Creations: “Fair trade makes a world of difference.” And during her 25 years with the store, Joan has witnessed the truth of this statement firsthand, through travels to visit artisans in their own countries or hosting them in Louisville. “Walking through their villages in Guatemala or India helped me to understand the day-to-day struggles they encounter. I marvel at their perseverance and skill at navigating the challenges. Once you hear their stories, meet their families, and share a meal, it is difficult to turn your back on that which provides so much hope for them.”
While all her tours have been special, the time Joan spent in Nepal has provided lasting inspiration. “I met the founders, leaders, and artisans working with Mahaguthi and ACP and was particularly moved by their commitment to empowering women and educating girls. When the earthquakes struck in 2015, these artisan communities continued to work together and to support each other through the recovery. The long-term relationships that are the hallmark of fair trade made it possible for the artisans to rebuild while maintaining their employment.
The biggest reason Joan gives for supporting fair trade? Knowing you're making a difference in the lives of so many. "And it is as easy for us as buying a pound of coffee, a chocolate bar, or a gift."
Our advocates support our work in myriad ways, inspired for reasons both personal and profound. For our friend Cailin, the call to promote Serrv stems from a love for fashion—and family. Along with her mother and grandmother, Cailin volunteered to model fair trade clothing at a fair trade fashion show at our store in Madison, Wisconsin, last spring. The event was held in conjunction with Fashion Revolution Week, a global event that asks consumers to think about who made their clothes—and at what cost to workers and the environment.
More than a passion for fashion, Cailin is also inspired to promote fair trade thanks to her grandmother, who worked in a sewing factory as a young mom, for little pay in return. "My grandmother's mother picked cotton in the hot Alabama fields as a child to help her family survive, and her paternal grandmother worked as a tailor to support her children after becoming a widow in 1925."
This family history in textiles makes Cailin think about those who make clothing around the world today. "More people are starting to pay attention to the companies they support and are making changes in the way they shop to be more in line with their own values." Advocating for—and shopping with—Serrv allows Cailin to support artful, well-made designs in good conscience. "The cash flow goes straight to the workers who make your clothes, rather than being funneled through cooperate businesses and leaving pennies on the dollar to overseas workers. These people work hard and deserve to be recognized for it. They deserve to get paid for it. They deserve to have a safe environment to work in. And that's what Serrv does."
It's impossible to calculate the many thousands of those who advocate for Serrv every day—or to fully express our profound thanks for your support. Learn more about how you can get involved.