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Gifts with a social conscience make the best Christmas presents

At Gifts & Graces Fair Trade Foundation, helping various groups in need simply means helping them do good business

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Philippine Tatler managing editor Chit Lijauco, Gifts and Graces’ Marivic Limcaoco. Standing: Visa marketing head Agnes Padilla, Gifts & Graces executive director Love Gregorie Perez, Gifts & Graces founder and INQUIRER president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez.

Accomplished individuals such as Bea Lucero Lhuillier will always be in a quandary as to what gifts to give friends who have everything. Her offering is something you can’t find in any store, lovingly handmade by indigent communities or persons with disabilities (PWD).

She would call on Gifts & Graces Fair Trade Foundation to customize her presents. One year, she gave an herb box of basil and oregano seeds with a recipe. The box was created by Tahanang Walang Hagdan Inc., an NGO that helps PWDs, while the Families and Children for Empowerment Development (FCED) provided the apron.

Another year, she gave friends a candle-making kit prepared by Kapit Bahayan Candles, composed of mothers of low-income families, organized by the Francisan missionaries. Thus, Lhuillier isn’t just spending on gifts, but she’s also indirectly giving work to disadvantaged groups.

“We always tag a story of the people who made them,” says Love Gregorie Perez, Gifts & Graces (G&G) executive director.

HAND-EMBROIDERED pillows from indigent communities in Bulacan; nipa hut and pillbox bag from directory pages, made by women from the Correctional Institute

There’s a trend of buying personalized gifts that enhance one’s social conscience. Gifts & Graces was born out of the entrepreneurial and humanitarian spirit of Inquirer president and CEO Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, who was always searching for unique presents offered by NGOs.

She observed how the process could be time-consuming: One had to go to FCED in Pandacan to buy crocheted and newspaper bags, then to Tahanang Walang Hagdan in Cainta for the wood products, and then to Pangarap Foundation in Pasay for the candles and rosaries made by the street urchins.

Business savvy

Through the Asian Institute of Management, Romualdez met Marge Barro, executive director of the League of Corporate Foundations, who surveyed the state of the NGOs providing livelihood programs to help inmates, poor communities, streetchildren, etc.

PICTURE frame, journal and folder from scrap by micro entrepreneurs in Montalban

Although these NGOs had a noble cause to fight poverty, they didn’t have the business savvy to make these ventures profitable, let alone make the public aware of the products.

“Gifts & Graces is a business with social goals,” maintained Perez. “When G&G was set up, our mission was to help the disadvantaged producers earn income and improve their quality of life.”

But don’t the NGO’s do the same?

“The NGO’s focus on education, health or advocacies like prevention of abuse. They are managed by social workers. They don’t have enough funding for their staff to run the livelihood programs. They don’t have access to corporate clients or stores. G&G is run like a business, but the mission is socially driven, not market-driven,” said Perez.

newspaper bags by the Families and Children for Empowerment and Development

G&G helps in the skills training, marketing, distribution and  development of the products from its 30 partner NGOs. Accredited by the World Fair Trade Organization, G&G applies the fair-trade practice of paying 50-percent downpayment to their partners, and then paying the balance upon delivery.

“If Market! Market! needs 4,000 tarpaulin bags in a month, one community can’t do it alone. We work with our network, by dividing the work among the communities that can meet the deadline,” said Perez. “NGOs don’t have the experience in dealing with corporations. Our priority is to increase the people’s income through more sales.”

G&G’s partners can include the T’bolis in Cotabato who produce the brass bells. The beads that go into the charms are made by individuals with special needs (for instance, persons with Down Sydrome or autism) from The Learning Center in Parañaque. Gift boxes are done by the Kilosan, an antipoverty NGO in Makati.

Over 50 percent of G&G’s products utilize fabric scraps that are upcycled into passport holders, coin purses, tote bags and teddy bears.

newspaper bags by the Families and Children for Empowerment and Development

Among the most popular items are the votives produced by Pag-asa sa Paglaya, the former inmates of Muntinlupa.

Fabric scraps for shopping bags

G&G’s list of clients is impressive. Designer Vittorio Barba would send his fabric scraps to G&G and have them made into his shopping bags. Insular Life ordered a travel set, composed of a passport holder, checkbook holder and luggage tag made by Kilusan, an NGO for the urban poor in Makati. The T’bolis supplied the t’nalak fabric.

Santi’s would order boxes and bags recycled from newspapers by indigent communities in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Bags recycled from Oishi packages, made by the Alay Kapwa Foundation in Leveriza, Pasay, are found in Edsa Shangri-La Gift Shop. Wedding Library orders the Unity Candles. Globe ordered My Fair Share tote bags for its new subscribers.

The Department of Tourism purchased notepad jackets made from Cordillera materials. Newspaper handbags and products from Sorsogon are sold on consignment in Robinsons Place  Ermita.

Six years since its inception, G&G has paid over P10 million to various communities. “We don’t give doleouts. In business terms, we buy from them,” maintains Perez.

On the environment, G&G has saved over 10,000 tarpaulin banners and over 200 kilos of newspapers from the landfill. More people in these communities are joining the livelihood activities.

This year, Gifts & Graces is the beneficiary of Philippine Tatler’s Charity Week, which runs from Sept. 20-27. Participating restaurants will give a percentage of their sales to this cause. Visa ordered 1,800 coffee sleeves from G&G which will be given to its cardholders who use their cards at select restaurants during Charity Week.

Perez said that consumers, through G&G, can customize their presents while helping the cause. “It’s heartwarming to hear stories about the mother being able to send her children to school or provide better nutrition for the family. Seeing their work displayed in the malls gives them a sense of pride.”

Gifts & Graces Fair Trade Foundation, Inc. is at Unit 131 Mile Long Bldg., G/F, Amorsolo St., Makati. Call 7592525, e-mail info@giftsandgraces.com, visit www.giftsandgraces.com.

PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN


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