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Students at the University of Texas-Austin

Students at the University of Texas-Austin have been selling Fair Trade Divine Chocolate on campus for the past five years.

Fair Trade on Campus

By Nikki Massie

The college years naturally lend themselves to exploration — of self and the world around us.

Through Fair Trade, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) connects U.S. Lutherans to farmers and communities around the world, promoting economic justice and God-given dignity. So it’s not surprising that Lutheran campus ministries have jumped on board, utilizing Fair Trade as a way to invite students to serve their global neighbors.

Here are two campus ministries serving up healthy portions of faith and Fair Trade.

“Chocolate that tastes like justice…”

That’s how the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Texas-Austin (UT) describes Fair Trade Chocolate on their website. For them, selling Fair Trade Chocolate is one more way to invite students into fellowship.

The ministry, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, has promoted Fair Trade for the past five years. Alongside weekly activities like Bible studies and worship, students sell Fair Trade Divine Chocolate on campus, giving them the opportunity to educate the campus community of the benefits of Fair Trade and invite people looking for a faith community.

“We seek to be an inviting and grace-proclaiming community of Christ,” says Pastor Paul Collinson-Streng, who has led the campus ministry for the past six years.

Collinson-Streng has been a proponent of Fair Trade since serving a parish in Mexico City years ago. He went on to promote Fair Trade in his role as campus minister for Towson University in Maryland and brought that same passion to his work at UT.

During his time at UT, he’s also traveled with students to Costa Rica, where students have had the opportunity to stay within indigenous communities, further deepening their awareness of the needs of rural, developing communities.

Overall, Collinson-Streng sees Fair Trade as a potential unifier among college students.

“Fair trade has been a way for us to engage in a dialogue with students about issues of justice and human rights,” he says. “In those issues, there are commonalities and we get to be an inviting church.”

A new era of an old tradition

Pastor Brian Bennett, at the Lutheran University Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. — which serves students from colleges and universities in Pittsburgh — doesn’t have to go far to be reminded of the importance of coffee in the lives of students. His office sits just 50 feet away from the campus Starbucks.

Although Bennett has only been with the campus ministry a few months, the schools have a long history of supporting Fair Trade. Students brew Fair Trade coffee and share Fair Trade chocolate in their gatherings. They also sell coffee from Equal Exchange, LWR’s Fair Trade partner.

Like Pastor Collinson-Streng in Texas, Bennett’s current campus ministry call was not his first experience with Fair Trade. During his internship position with St. Paul Lutheran Church in Arlington, Mass., he did a study of stewardship and lifted up Fair Trade as an example.

“Many times we think of stewardship as an issue of protecting our money, using as little as we can. I wanted to reframe it a bit and show that sometimes by spending a little more, you are practicing good stewardship in the impact you make with your purchases,” he says.

Next school year, Bennett plans on incorporating Fair Trade into more campus activities. He’s working with another campus minister to plan a coffeehouse gathering featuring Fair Trade coffee and live music. Bennett also plans to offer sample size chocolate bars to students at the beginning of term and in care packages at finals time.

According to Bennett, college campuses are a great place to talk about Fair Trade and the impact it has on lives. “It’s not hard to get these issues on students’ radars,” he says. “They are engaging in deeper study and the world opens up for them.”

On a personal level, Bennett wants to convey that even caffeine addiction can work for the greater good! “I often joke that in the morning, coffee is a matter of life and death to me,” he says, “But then I realized that for farmers whose lives depend on their incomes from coffee, it really is.”

Want to bring Fair Trade to your campus? Check out the LWR Coffee, Chocolate and Handcraft Projects. Each offers a way to enjoy great products that change lives!

Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.

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