Shopping event gives chance to help locally, globally

by Jessica Langdon


KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Black Friday might officially launch the Christmas shopping season.

But for those who’d like to beat the rush, find a unique gift, and make a difference in lives in the Kansas City area, the Sunday before Thanksgiving — Nov. 24 — just might prove to be an ideal shopping day.

Fifteen percent of net sales between 1 and 5 p.m. on Nov. 24 at the Ten Thousand Villages store in Overland Park will benefit the Keeler Women’s Center and its outreach to women in the urban core of Kansas City, Kan.

The Keeler Women’s Center, a ministry of the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, works to empower women through education and advocacy, as well as by personal and spiritual development.

Sister Carol Ann Petersen, OSB, director of the Keeler Center, walked into Ten Thousand Villages in Overland Park a few years ago and noticed that the store — a nonprofit fair-trade retailer — offered events to benefit other nonprofit organizations in the community.

Soon, she was filling out an application to add Keeler Women’s Center to that list.

She felt good about bolstering Keeler’s efforts locally while supporting artisans — many of them women — in developing countries around the world.

“Everything in our store was handmade — handmade by an artisan in a developing country who creates these products for Ten Thousand Villages,” said Kendra Frink, store manager at Ten Thousand Villages Overland Park. “They’re paid a fair wage.”

And the artisans are actually already paid for their products so that things like coupons or promotions don’t affect their wages, she added.

“There are so many needs,” said Sister Carol Ann, noting that artisans created these gifts in places like Vietnam, Nepal, different parts of Africa — and the Philippines, a country that has captured worldwide attention with heartbreaking headlines in recent weeks.

“I think the typhoon has made us aware of how vulnerable so many people in the world are,” said Sister Carol Ann.

And with only four paid staff members at this store, volunteers handle a lot of the work, from unpacking products to greeting people at the door. Events like this give the workers and the regulars at Ten Thousand Villages a chance to learn more about other organizations — like the Keeler Women’s Center — and give staff, volunteers, and supporters of other organizations a look at what Ten Thousand Villages is all about.

The organizations publicize the events that will be benefiting them, and many of these take place during the fall shopping season. Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas benefited from an event held Nov. 21.

“It becomes a great partnership between us and the organization,” said Frink, who has enjoyed getting to know the Keeler Women’s Center people and their story during the past few years.

“They’re doing fantastic things. They’re a great organization to work with for this event,” she said. “They always draw a very large crowd.”

Ten Thousand Villages events also offer buyers a chance to shop for something a little off the beaten path — not the same electronics or hot-ticket items people will be lining up for on Black Friday.

Sister Carol Ann often sees in many of Keeler’s volunteers and supporters a desire to simplify their lives.

“They don’t need to buy the most expensive gift or biggest gifts or 10 gifts for everybody,” she said.

Instead, they are looking for gifts that mean something.

“It’s nice to shop for something you think someone is really going to like — [that is] going to touch their heart,” she said.

At a store like this, people can find things that aren’t “cookie cutter” gifts or items that every store they walk into would offer, she said.

“Everything has a story,” added Frink, noting that some of the stories tell of the techniques or special materials used to make the pieces. “We can actually print out the stories for customers to give with their gift.”

Visitors to the store during the early portion of the afternoon on Nov. 24 will also have an opportunity to meet a woman who has been a gift to the Benedictine Sisters over the past several years.

Judith Valente — a poet, journalist, and author of “Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith” — will sign copies of her book at the event from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

The book, published this year, details her visits with — and life-changing lessons from — the Sisters at Mount St. Scholastica.

Her time with the Benedictine community introduced her to the work of the Keeler Women’s Center, and this event seemed like the perfect opportunity to Sister Carol Ann to have Valente come to the area for a book signing.

“We’ve really been blessed by her friendship,” said Sister Carol Ann.

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