Middle-schoolers in Sewickley operate holiday fair-trade shop

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Nestled in the Sewickley Village shopping district is a market operated by a group of middle school students from Monesssori Children's Community in Sewickley.

The market primarily sells fair-trade goods, created by craftsmen and women in developing countries such as Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala. This is the second year for the Broad Street store, Reaching for the Clouds. The students are raising money for a sixth-grade community service trip to Costa Rica next year.

“It’s really fun. I love working in the store,” said Isabella Stripay, a fifth-grader who says she hopes to be able to go to Costa Rica.

School head Terri Modic said the idea of operating a store developed because Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori method of education, believed children need to learn to run a business. It has a lot to do with children learning to be adults, Ms. Modic said.

Last year, when the students traveled to Costa Rica, they donated $1,000 worth of fruit trees to schools and farms and helped to create jewelry pieces with craftswomen in the Women of the Cloud Forest organization.

Women of the Cloud Forest is Spanish teacher Amy Sobkowiak’s fair-trade project. Founded in 2001 with the mission to offer "training and employment opportunities to undeserved women,” the organization also helps to provide materials to the craftswomen. The materials are used to make necklaces, bracelets, embroidered dresses, and other items.

“It’s all about giving back,” said Susan Gaudio, parent of a Montessori Children’s Community seventh-grader who went on the trip to Costa Rica last year. “It was an amazing experience,” she added. “He came back a different kid.”

The store is bursting with colorful, handmade jewelry, ornaments, toys, clothing, and more. There are patterned royal and cobalt blue paper mache bowls from Haiti, Wild Woolys birdhouses that look like different animals, depending on which side is facing out.

The store also offers childrens’ shoes made to look like giraffes, and rubbery, black bags and coin purses from El Salvador, made from recycled materials such as tires.

“Every item in this store has a story behind it,” Isabella said.

Accessories company Article 22 has pendants, bracelets and min-spoons created from fragments of bombs dropped by the U.S. on Vietnam decades ago. The items are engraved with the messages "Peace" and "Peace is the bomb."

There also are colorful luminarias and pots depicting Nativity scenes, butterflies and trees hand-carved with a bicycle spoke. Turquoise and orange bags are made from recycled netting. With each purchase of those bags, an average of five meals are provided to children in Cambodia.

Another display sells gleaming silver embellishments made from melted automobile engines. Some are made into crosses and have religious symbols on them. “Something for the gearhead in your family,” said sixth-grader Natalie Bolea, noting how many of the items in the store would make wonderful holiday gifts.

Multicolored, hand-embroidered dresses from Women of the Cloud Forest are folded and stacked against one wall. The dresses have lady bugs, bumble bees and other nature-inspired designs.

Shoppers also will find organic coffee from Building New Hope, a Pittsburgh-based company that buys half of its coffee from Nicaragua. Literature at the display says that Building New Hope pays more than fair trade rates to growers, which helps to sustain many family farms and communities in Central America.

This is the last weekend for the store. It will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday  and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Information: 412-741-8982.


Shellie Petri Budzeak, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com

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