It is a great thing to find a place where one can volunteer among generous souls in support of a good cause. Work becomes a delight and co-workers become friends. This has been my experience as a volunteer at the Dix Mille Villages shop on St. Denis, where I have been helping out on a nearly weekly basis for over a year.

The entire inventory is “Fair Trade” which means that the artisans and agricultural workers who produce the goods are given fair market value for their work. A price is negotiated with agricultural collectives and artisan groups in countries where there are few social safety nets. The workers are paid 50% for their goods in advance and the remaining 50% before the items leave their country.

A network of shops and sales events then sell these products throughout North America. Dix Mille Villages(Ten Thousand Villages) relies upon volunteerism. It helps keep the cost overhead down, it creates communities of support for the principles of Fair Trade, and it strengthens the society within which it functions. As journalist Brian O'Connell writes, “Volunteering creates a national character in which the community and the nation take on a spirit of compassion, comradeship and confidence.”

The shops are places of welcome and education. Each item in the shop has a story to tell and part of our training as volunteers is to learn where to find the stories, and how to share them with visitors to the store. We offer samples of the chocolate, cups of coffee and tea so that people can taste our wonderful products. International music plays and we are surrounded by a wide array of household items and gifts. As I move through the store, dusting or rearranging shelves, I am awed by people's creativity and skillfulness.

With the lingering cold and snow, I was a bit “under the weather” last week. I wasn't sure I could smile and practice speaking in French ―but then I thought of the people who worked for less than a dollar a day, who live well below what we call poverty. I remembered why I do this. This is my way of trying to bring balance back to the world. Some of my clothing comes from sweatshops; some of the people who pick my fruits and vegetables are hungry and are forced to become indebted to the company store. My four hours a week begin to feel very small in comparison. And yet, my four hours a week become something else; any work I do with Dix Mille Villages is an act of solidarity. When I was in seminary, I called it “prayer on location.” It is a joyful way of working with others to promote fairness and justice.

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