Local Shop the Place for Fair Trade and Volunteering

Maire Hunter

Staff Reporter

“Our mission is to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide.”

This is mission statement for the non-profit Serrv gift shop located on the Brethren Service Center campus in New Windsor, just about 6 miles away from McDaniel. You’ll know you’re close when the speed limit abruptly drops to 25.

SERRV (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation) was established by the Church of the Brethren 60 years ago as a fair trade organization to assist European refugees from World War II. In 1999 they dropped their religious affiliation and became an independent organization, but retained ties to the Brethren community and the name, although the acronym is no longer used.

Fair trade in its simplest form means that producers are paid a fair wage for their products, with an emphasis on sustainability. These groups award grants to inspire growth and progress in working communities. For many of them, it means the ability to put in a well to ensure the availability of clean drinking water.

“The concept is awesome…it’s a win-win. Look it gives me goosebumps just talking about it.”

Manager Carmen Rubio-Cooke’s reaction to Serrv’s fair trade work is reiterated over and over by the customers who cycle in and out.

“Everyone loves the idea of helping families, and especially women, in other countries.”

This doesn’t mean the products are overpriced. Surprisingly, the prices are on-par or lower than elsewhere and the quality and originality is undeniable.

Rubio-Cooke’s favorite items are the Ecuadorean tagua nut products because “they are used for such a variety of items: jewelry, keychains, nativities, ornaments.”

There are shesham wood coffee tables from India, olive wood nativities from the West Bank, silver filigree earrings from Indonesia, and messenger bags from Cambodia. Some of the most impressive pieces are the Vietnamese bowls, boxes, and vases made of hand-folded recycled paper.

But the edible products, which include coffee, tea, chocolate, bean soup, oil, nuts, and jam, are clear best sellers.

There are usually a variety of chocolate samples on the counters to try, and coffee and tea are just a dollar a cup in the cozy self-serve café. The location itself overlooks a working farm with mountains in the distance. The people living on and visiting the grounds are generally kind and big-hearted people, and they are from all over the country.

Art and Lois Hermanson have been volunteering with Serrv and the Brethren since 1994, traveling all the way from Iowa every year and regularly staying for up to six months. You can usually find them in the café in the afternoons, chatting and telling stories with whoever is around.

Rubio-Cooke calls volunteers “the core of the place,” considering over 6,000 pass through every year.

The Phi Mus have regularly volunteered in the warehouse since fall 2008, doing anything from price tagging to packaging, and usually putting in two eight-hour Saturdays per month.

Junior Elyse Sparks finds it rewarding to “be able to help out a great cause,” and especially because her grandmother is from the Philippines and “it is fun to see hand-made products that come from her home country.” The girls seem to have fun working and chatting together, even early on a Saturday. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that Serrv offers a generous discount to volunteers.

Serrv has regular sales, and the next one begins November 19th and runs through the 29th. Most items available in the store will be discounted there, but the actual sale will be held in the Blue Ridge building.

So whether you’re looking for a quiet place to relax away from the highway noise, or whether you’re looking for a unique gift for a friend, Serrv is worth checking out.

Monday-Saturday 9:30am-5pm, most Sundays 1-5pm.

500 Main St New Windsor, MD 21776. 410.635.8711