Baked with hope

News | November 2, 2023

Volunteers celebrate and lift up fair trade vendors in the Book Corner.

Out of the Blue granola is tasty, natural, and handmade but it’s the women who bake this granola who are truly exceptional. Mixed into every bag, beyond dark chocolate and honey, are stories of redemption, recovery, stability, security, and hope. And it was Book Corner volunteer Suzy Schindler who knew this purposeful granola was meant for the Book Corner.

Since joining St. Paul 15 years ago, Suzy Schindler is often found behind the marble countertop as a volunteer in the Book Corner. (Suzy, in her pre-retirement job, also designed many of the marble countertops you see around St. Paul.) In addition to being a smiling face in the Book Corner on Sundays, she keeps the shelves stocked full of her favorite granola.

Suzy and her husband Rudy often travel to Tennessee, a home away from home, where Rudy’s aunt and uncle lived. This aunt and Suzy shared a special bond, and it was this close connection that led her to a certain granola with a special purpose.

“My aunt knew how much I loved the social aspect of Nashville so when she knew we were coming to visit, she’d saved interesting publications for me,” Suzy said. “While flipping through one of those publications, I was introduced to Out of the Blue Granola and their partnership with Blue Monarch. I clipped it out and brought it to then-Book Corner manager, Jan Aplin, and said this seems like something that would be a good match for us.”

At the time the first order was placed 12 years ago, Rudy and Suzy were once again headed down to Tennessee to visit family and offered to pick up the order during their travels. After their third visit for a refill of more bags of granola, the Schindlers were invited to the farm where the granola is made and it’s here that Suzy learned even more about the long-term impact a little granola has on the lives of many women and children.

All the women who lovingly hand bake Out of the Blue Granola are graduates or residents of Blue Monarch, a long-term, residential, and therapeutic Christian community for women and their children to break adverse cycles of addiction and/or abuse and rebuild their families.

“Helping these women and children who don’t know any other way of living speaks to me,” Suzy says with passion in her voice. “I’ve been lucky to not have those kinds of struggles myself. I don’t know those demons; I don’t know those pitfalls. But we often don’t know each other’s struggles and this opportunity to draw these individuals out of their trauma, to give them and their children a new life, it‘s a lovely cause.”

Blue Monarch sits peacefully on more than 50 acres (or the equivalent of 39 football fields) of farmland near Monteagle Mountain in Middle Tennessee and continues to expand, adding additional housing to include more residents. This non-profit organization serves women who are recovering from physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, alcohol or drug addictions, poverty, and mental health issues. While many mothers recovering from addiction or abuse must make the difficult decision to be separated from their children during their recovery time, one of the most unique parts of Blue Monarch’s process is the inclusion of the children in the recovery process.

A program of healing for the young in the family is included in this journey along with on-site education services. Together, mothers and children learn and grow, creating a community of healing and support. Over the past 20 years, Blue Monarch has served more than 900 women and children and close to 350 children have been reunited with their mothers who had previously lost custody.

During their time at Blue Monarch, the women are given employment through Out of the Blue Granola. Employment is an essential part of the recovery process. Many of the residents of Blue Monarch have incomplete work histories or struggled to earn income to support themselves and their families during their difficult years. This granola changes all that by offering job training, flexible employment opportunities, establishing positive work histories, and helping women to begin providing for their families.

Inside each bag of granola is a photo and recovery story from one of the residents. Blue Monarch resident Megan says she was able to overcome her addiction and co-dependency to become the super mom her three sons know her to be today. “Out of the Blue helped me to discover my independence and taught me valuable work skills. Today, I am confident and hopeful for the bright future that awaits.”

It only took one outstanding volunteer to connect St. Paul with the loving mission of Blue Monarch more than 600 miles away in Tennessee.

October is fair trade month
The St. Paul Book Corner is committed to stocking gifts and products that provide fair income for the world’s poor. While fair trade is a commonly used phrase, what exactly does it mean and why is it important?

According to the Fair Trade Federation, “fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Fair trade businesses partner with farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized to find markets for their goods.” The origins of fair trade and advocacy date back to the 1940s and since that time have grown into a global network of organizations known as the World Fair Trade Organization.
“Not only is fair trade about equal employment and the rights of workers including children, it’s about the celebration of all cultures and traditions, and the people that make the products. Practically everything in the Book Corner is fair trade,” Book Corner manager Andrea Spencer said. “There is a story behind each product which makes the giving of that gift so much more special and meaningful. Not only are you thinking of the person receiving the gift, you are contributing to a much larger cause that provides long-term stability in people’s lives.”
Fair Trade Principles
  • Create opportunity for artisans and farmers who live in poverty and lack access to long term, well-paying jobs.
  • Develop transparent and accountable relationships with artisans and farmers to ensure that they have long term jobs.
  • Build capacity of farmers, artisans, and their communities. Invest time and resources to help their business and improve their communities.
  • Promote fair trade by raising awareness, educating customers and producers, and inspiring other businesses to adopt fair trade practices.
  • Pay promptly and fairly and discuss prices openly and honestly so that producers understand their costs and earn a fair wage.
  • Support safe working conditions that are healthy and free of discrimination. Producers have a voice in decisions that affect them most.
  • Ensure the rights of children by never using exploitative child labor. Members support children’s rights to security, education, and play.
  • Cultivate environmental stewardship by encouraging responsible use of resources and eco-friendly production.
  • Respect cultural identity of farmer and artisan communities. Fair trade products reflect the history and traditions of artisans and farmers.
*Published by the Fair Trade Federation. Additional resources are available in the Book Corner.

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