Merchandise on a mission

Purchases support artisans in Third World nations.
COLUMBIANA -- Ten Thousand Villages turns 25 years old next month and is going strong.
Manager Lois Rogers wants to get the word out about the store that's more about mission than merchandise.
Not that the merchandise isn't important, mind you. It's very important.
Ten Thousand Villages is part of a network of stores in the United States and Canada. The nonprofit program was started 53 years ago by the Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada.
Locally, the store is run by 17 volunteers from the North Lima, Leetonia and Midway Mennonite churches.
Three volunteers, Lucille Detrow and Lois Knopp from Leetonia Mennonite Church and Vera Witmer of Midway have been volunteers at the store for 25 years.
Creating a market
The program sends paid buyers -- not missionaries -- to Third World nations to find crafts workers.
"We buy their products," Rogers said. "We sell them, and part of the money goes back to the craftspeople to make a fair living."
The buyers pay half when placing the order and the rest when the material is shipped, Rogers said.
The artisans or crafts workers stay with the program until they're successful. That might be one contract or several years, Rogers said.
The money the workers receive can go toward food, education, housing or health care.
As Rogers puts it, "It's the difference between one bowl of rice a day or three bowls of rice a day."
A diverse selection
The "World Gifts" sign on the roof was designed to give people an idea of what the store carries.
That includes cards, musical instruments, baskets, pots, vases, furniture, toys, kites, knickknacks, tea, music boxes, candles, incense, soap, jewelry, and for the gift-minded, handmade wrapping paper.
Countries include El Salvador, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam and many others. Prices range from 40 cents for angels to $100 or more, with most items in the $25 to $30 range.
Each year, Rogers gets a catalog from the mission that lists 5,000 items that can be ordered. She said she normally has between 1,000 and 1,100 items available, and she does custom orders, including drums, all the time.
Rogers said she orders what sells instead of guessing trends.
"I don't try to outguess the public," she said.
In Columbiana, crosses of a variety of materials are big sellers, and the store tries to keep a good selection.
Most of the items are secular, although there are carved Nativity scenes in classic or contemporary styles and Ark music boxes. The store has promoted linens for Passover and noisemakers for Purim on the Jewish calendar.
Environmentally minded
The program is also big in the ecological movement, offering wares made from bamboo, clay and other renewable sources. It also markets coffee that ensures small-scale farmers get fair prices. On Monday, it will observe Earth Day by focusing on such items.
And the store does other promotions. On May 18, anyone buying a flower pot will get a free packet of seeds.
For the store's anniversary May 7, there will be coffee and snacks, plus discounts. There will be specials that week, May 6 through 11.
Ten Thousand Villages shops in resort areas do extremely well, said Rogers, adding, "We hold our own."
As long as income goes up a little bit every year, and it has, the store keeps running. As a reminder of why it does, there are photos of the crafts workers and information about them mixed in with the goods. There are also videotapes on the mission that can be played in the store.
People can just make contributions, often in the form of leaving their change.
"People are very big-hearted," Rogers said.