By Trevor Suffield
Dec. 18, 2008
A Charleswood church is doing its part this holiday season to help struggling farmers in Palestine.
Charleswood United Church, located at 4820 Roblin Blvd., is selling olive oil and olive oil soap that comes from Palestine in an effort to raise funds and awareness for Palestinian farmers.
Pat van Ryssel, who has been attending Charleswood United for more than 20 years, initiated the program after receiving an email from the United Church’s Conference of Manitoba and North Western Ontario asking if anyone wanted to sell the products.
She thought it would be a good seasonal fundraiser and one that the congregation would support.
“I talked a little about the olive oil and that it was a great product, and showed the soaps,” said van Ryssel, who lives in River Heights.
“We set up a little table at church, and it was something that people were really looking for with the vast commercialism of the season, and it really provided a great alternative.”
van Ryssel said the church has received such a good response that it sold out of the olive oil products three Sundays in a row.
Gay Boese of the Steinbach United Church originally brought the olive oil into the province as part of as part of the church’s youth group efforts.
“We had a youth group and we were talking about what we could do as a group,” Boese said.
It was through the church’s United for Peace campaign, that supports peace initiatives around the world, that Boese found the olive oil program and a Canadian distributor, Zatoun, in Toronto.
The church buys the oil and soap from Zatoun, also known as Palestine Peace Awareness Inc., which imports the fair-trade products. This ensures that the farmers receive a fair price for their harvest.
Many olive farmers in Palestine are struggling to make ends meet in recent times. A barrier wall constructed by Israel throughout the West Bank region has made it difficult for some farmers to access their groves and harvest crops.
Each bottle of extra virgin olive oil and four-pack of soap bars cost $20 each. A total of $5 from each bottle goes to the United for Peace campaign, and $15 to Zatoun, which then divides it amongst farmers and different organizations in Palestine that helped produce the product.
More than $5,000 has already been raised for the United for Peace campaign through the sale of olive oil products.
In addition to raising funds for the church’s efforts, the campaign is aimed at educating people here in Manitoba, Boese said.
“I’m doing a lot of learning myself,” he said.
Paula Jeffrey, 15, attends Charleswood United Church and thinks it’s a great idea to sell the olive oil from Palestine.
“I like having it and knowing where it comes from and that the farmers are getting the money they deserve.”
Boese said that the olive oil products are being sold in United churches across Manitoba and Northern Ontario. United churches in in Toronto recently joined the campaign.
“It’s just always amazing when you plant a little wee seed of thought, something you do in a small community, and it takes off,” Boese said.
The olive oil and soap are also available at Sturgeon Creek United Church and Meadowood United Church.