“Live Simply that Others May Simply Live.” — Friends of the Poor
The motto above is the one held by a local organization that started out as Friends of the Third World (now called Friends of the Poor), which was created in 1972 as an outgrowth of a fundraising project of Catholic and Lutheran parochial students and teachers to feed the hungry.
The nonprofit group, which recently concluded celebrating its 40th anniversary, has grown to include job training for the less fortunate, as well as a marketplace for fair trade items from 80 partner entities in 35 countries, including the United States, according to James Goetsch, organization administrator.
“We moved to the historic Hattersley House at 611 W. Wayne St. in 1978, after the first center on Berry Street was destroyed by fire,” said Goetsch, who has been married to Marian Waltz, the organization's resource coordinator, for 38 years. “Then we began assisting the first of some 20 nonprofit fair trade stores … . ”
That work produced one of the more memorable moments in Friends of the Poor's past 40 years, Waltz said.“We held a workshop attended by 15 groups at Trinity Episcopal Church and decided to place our first order of a boatload of (fair trade) coffee from Nicaraguan peasant farmers, even though we lacked the money to pay for it,” said Waltz.
“We solicited each group to order a share, and money trickled in,” she said. “On the day our ship came in, the mail also arrived with a big check from the Victory Noll Sisters in Huntington in the exact amount we still needed.”
Currently, Friends of the Poor runs the Third World Shoppe & Whole World Bookstore — both online and brick-and-mortar locations — as well as Delta Communications, which offers low-cost printing and mailing services as a job-training program for people Friends of the Poor serves.
The corporate name, Friends of the Third World, was originally chosen because, at the time, there was political emphasis on the conflict between the First World (the Western countries) and the Second World (the Soviet Bloc), when Friends of the Third World's concern was for the poor both overseas and domestically, said Goetsch.
“We decided to take the assumed name, Friends of the Poor, five years ago to remind others that we have always cared for the poor in the United States and locally, i.e., our fair-trade store market items,” Goetsch said. “Fair trade means that the producers, who for us are all low-income, receive a fair share of the selling price. We get items from Native Americans in Arizona, New Mexico and Minnesota; Appalachians from Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as local artisans, some of whom are disabled.
“From the beginning, we have also been a site for … adults to learn job skills by helping as hands-on volunteers with building repairs, computer data entry, retail store work, printing and recycling /gardening,” Goetsch said.
“We seek to assist low-income people to rise above poverty through learning new skills and benefiting from productive activities, such as handicraft production,” he said. “Approximately 30 community and job-training volunteers are involved regularly.”
The volunteer-run store has more than 4,500 different items, he said. Best-sellers include coffee from eight countries, teas from four nations, chocolate from threecountries, jewelry from Guatemala, olivewood carving from the West Bank in Palestine, soapstone from Kenya and children's toys from India.
The group has also collected excess medical supplies for several years, which are distributed by medical aid groups in Chicago, and has also been a part of supplying two containers of aid to the Haitian people after the earthquake.
Because of the current crisis in Syria, they are collecting materials now until April 30 to aid refugees there, Goestch said.
Friends of the Poor's funding for administrative and support services comes from small donations from about 300 individuals, fundraising events and by renting out a portion of the building. The staff uses and refurbishes old donated equipment to save on costs.
The organization is trying to raise money to replace the building's heating system, he said. Two-thirds of the money has been raised, but more is needed.