Godfrey, Alton duo form Fair Trade pop-up boutique partnership against poverty
GODFREY — A family of 12-plus brings hope, heritage and the Christmas holiday together for a season of giving.
Godfrey resident, Natalie Runyon, a mother of 10, three of whom she adopted from an orphanage in Haiti more than 10 years ago, recently visited her children’s homeland. While there on a mission trip with two of her daughters and her sister, also adopted in Haiti, Runyon discovered a way to offer Fair Trade merchandise to the Riverbend and help Haitians in poverty.
The impetus for the October trip came from Runyon’s third eldest child, Meghan Runyon, 15, who wanted to go on a mission trip. Meghan got her wish, accompanied by her mother, sister Eliana, 20, born in Haiti, and aunt, Josette Harmon, 19, also born in Haiti and adopted by Natalie’s parents, Kim and Lonnie Harmon, who moved back to Alton from Texas two years ago. Josette is among five more of Natalie’s siblings adopted from Haiti.
After the mission trip with the Healing Haiti organization through Alton’s The Bridge church, Runyon met and inspired a like-minded member of The Bridge, Penny Waltz, of Alton. The two joined together to embark on a charitable adventure now named “Gifts That Give Hope,” under the umbrella of “Espwa Boutique.” Espwa (pronounced Esp-Waaaa) is a Creole word for “hope.”
Among many mission tasks the Runyons and their team completed, they distributed drinking water in Haiti’s CiteSoleil, the Western hemisphere’s largest slum city with multiple neighborhoods, built at sea level on a garbage dump, where its residents must rely on trucked-in drinking water, of which Healing Haiti donates 3,000 gallons once a week. This, and other trip experiences, led to a quandary for the family, left wondering how can Haitians sustain themselves if they do not have jobs or occupations.
Natalie saw pockets of sustainable examples of employment opportunities during the trip. For instance, a Minnesota resident temporarily runs Fleri (French for flourish), a bakery that wholesales pastries to Haitians who in turn sell the items in their villages. The Minnesotan’s plan is to step aside and let Haitians run the bakery, Runyon said.
The Runyons also visited Papillon (French for butterfly), a retailer supported by U.S. nonprofit Apparent Project. Here, Natalie discovered that the nonprofit sent Papillon’s retail items, such as bracelets, to U.S. sellers to raise funds for Haitians — anything the seller didn’t sell, they could ship back, without obligation, to the nonprofit. Ultimately, Runyon realized occupations would serve Haitians as well, or better, than non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid, though she still supports both.
Papillon, owned by an American woman who adopted children from Haiti, as well as a similar boutique owned by Haitians, also visited by Runyon, supplied jobs to other women, but they had no one to care for their children while at work. Many Haitian parents leave their children to orphanages simply because they cannot afford to care for them. But Papillon’s owner started a daycare, which also supplied jobs.
“I thought it was inspiring, like going to the orphanage, but it was even better seeing how jobs prevent a need for an orphanage,” Runyon said.
Now, she and Waltz, through Gifts That Give Hope, sell Fair Trade retail items — made sustainably through sustainable sources — to support those in poverty, but who are sustainably employed making the items. Many such employees make enough in wages to support their families and even buy small amounts of property, Runyon explained. These citizens worked themselves out of poverty by making and supplying the sustainably-made merchandise, either individually, through collectives or through nonprofit humanitarian agencies’ outlets. When Runyon and Waltz found they shared an interest in helping the poverty-stricken global community, it made sense to make Haitians the benefactors.
Thus Waltz and Runyon began calling such suppliers and found companies that readily agreed to supply products that through sales would come back to those involved in the sustainable production of the merchandise, thereby providing those employees a steady occupation. Companies agreed to allow the pair to ship back what doesn’t sell.
Runyon and Waltz are holding their first free and open-to-the-public event Friday and Saturday with the Gifts That Give Hope Holiday Boutique. The pop-up boutique will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at its sponsor’s, The Bridge, E. 12th St., in Alton.
“That’s how she encouraged me,” Waltz said of Runyon. “I was shocked gaining trust and hope from these companies. That’s amazing today. She gave me the ideas because I didn’t have the confidence to reach out to companies.”
Artisans all over the world have nowhere to sell their items, Runyon noted.
The duo’s source for organic cotton tops made in Nepal employs females who survived sex trafficking. The women work six hours a day for six times the country’s minimum wage per hour.
“This is not a sweat shop,” Waltz said. “Making such a profit, more girls can be hired and give these women freedom from abuse, but also give them the human right to support themselves.”
Runyon also noted that since Haiti’s 2010 devastating earthquake, for every $100 given to the Caribbean country in humanitarian aid, only $1.62 went to Haitian contractors; the rest went to NGOs.
“Those are profiting from Haitian suffering,” Runyon said. “Penny and I don’t really have the money to wholesale, so we contacted Fair Trade suppliers. Social enterprise versus humanitarian aid is not about a handout, which doesn’t provide dignity, but a job brings pride.”
Runyon, along with her husband, Michael, who works at Phillips 66 refinery in Wood River, are the parents of Eliana, 20, born in Haiti, who works for the Madison County Treasurer’s Office; Madeline, 17; Meghan, 15; Bella, 13, born in Haiti; their only son, Jude, 13, born in Haiti; Eva, 9; Joyanna, 7; Sophia, 6; Brooklyn, 4; and, Emilia, 3. The Runyons’ children are home-schooled. Waltz’ daughter, Lily, 10, spends lots of time with the Runyons since her mom helped create Gifts That Give Hope.
The Runyons and Natalie’s parents independently adopted their children through a Haiti-based agency, For His Glory Adoption Outreach.
For more information about Gifts That Give Hope email Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her Espwa group on Facebook.