Making a World of Difference

No one wants a hand-out, but there are times when we all can use a hand-up.  This conviction led members of the Peace and Justice Committee of St. Isidore, Silver Springs and Perry, to support small business entrepreneurs in Latin America to become economically independent.  They made a world of difference.  They are accomplishing this with the help of Kiva, a non-profit, micro-finance organization that connects lenders with entrepreneurs around the world to alleviate poverty.  Similarly, the eighth graders of St. Francis Assisi School in Tonawanda found a way to have impact both locally and globally in a delicious fashion.At St. Isidore, the Peace and Justice Committee explained to the parish how their goal to encourage self-reliance matched the goals of Kiva.  The committee was surprised by the interest and generosity of their fellow parishioners.  Some of the advantages of lending over simply making donations include:

  •     Kiva makes it easy and reliable - identifying the entrepreneurs, assembling the proposals and monitoring agreed upon use of funds.  
  •     A prospective lender can go online and view various people and business proposals to find one that suits the lender's interests.
  •     This approach creates a personal connection between the lender and the entrepreneur.  Once the loan is made, Kiva provides progress reports, background on the person, their family, community and future plans.
  •     Supporting people through loans enhances the self-respect of the entrepreneur because it is not a hand-out.
  •     Once the loan is repaid, the lender can either select another partner or request the return of the funds for some other charitable use.

St. Isidore had such a satisfying experience the first time that they decided to re-invest. The Justice and Peace Committee learned that through Kiva, loans can be made in almost any amount from $25, but no more than $1000.  Since St. Isidore is in a rural farming community they found themselves sympathetic to hardworking entrepreneurs hoping to make a living off the land.  Because St. Isidore is a merged parish with people spread over a large geographic area, this project was tremendously helpful in building a sense of community and unity of purpose.  What are the dividends of this investment? The people of St. Isidore Parish have experienced their identity as one body in Christ not only with new fellow parishioners in Wyoming County, but also in Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala.  Apparently that is just the start.  If you want to learn more about how a parish can invest in the good in people read a brief description of the initiative at St. Isidore, Perry and contact Cathy or David Parker with questions at 585-237-5477.

St. Nicholas saw Christmas as a time to care for the poor and the eighth graders of St. Francis of Assisi School decided to be Santa's helpers this Christmas.  After learning about the plight of poor children in sweat shops and studying fair trade alternatives, they sponsored a Fair Trade Sale for the entire school.  The entire parish is now also invited to participate on Sunday morning, December 6th, the eight grade class by enjoying a "local" pancake breakfast at which all the ingredients are from local farms and all products for sale will be from El Buen Amigo.  This energetic class has learned at a young age how to think globally and acting locally.

If you are looking to live the spirit of St. Nicholas this Christmas, consider some alternative gifts that care for the poor and inspire compassion in others:  

Give the gift of life through Catholic Relief Service and their partner SERRV or purchase a life-sustaining gift through the Heifer Project. Families who receive a Heifer gift frequently pay it forward in ways that benefit an entire village.  Check out dozens of gifts that make a difference from Oxfam America Unwrapped.  These are all Fair Trade possibilities.

Visit one of the local Fair Trade stores -

  • El Buen Amigo, 114 Elmwood Ave., 14201, 885-6343
  • Ten Thousand Villages at 5596 Main St., Williamsville, 14221 839-9274

If you want to make a loan you can contact Kiva or make a donation to the microfinance program at Catholic Relief Service.  While CRS only accepts donations, they operate a microfinance program that targets self-employed poor people who lack access to financial services.  CRS encourages economic and environmental sustainability, community involvement, participatory management, and personal savings in adherence to principles of Catholic social teaching.  If you are interested in big ways to make a difference in the world visit Catholic Relief Services or consult these weblinks.