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New Huntington shop supports fair trade, orphanage

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HUNTINGTON (AP) — All Laurie Reasons has to do is glance around Lamb's Gate Market in downtown Huntington to see that people do, in fact, care.

The shop was established in just one month, all by volunteers. A man whose wife was due with a baby any day took time out to build the cashier's desk. Local designers came up with some ideas for decor, and others scoured town for donated items that could make a nice retail space. A lawyer donated his services, along with an accountant and dozens of volunteers who staff the shop.

"I feel so surrounded by love," said Reasons, president of the market. "Anytime I look anywhere, I see people who have not only said, 'It's great that you're doing this,' but put their lives into it."

They do it because they hear of the shop's mission, and they want to contribute, she said. Lamb's Gate Market, which opened last month at 415 9th St., sells fair trade items with all the proceeds going to benefit an orphanage in Nicaragua.

"Fair trade" is the global concept of ensuring farmers and artisans in less developed countries are paid decent wages and have better working conditions.

"We support fair trade because it offers hope," Reasons said. "It makes a real difference in the lives of artisans in third-world and developing countries. By paying a fair wage to the artists for skilled work or to farmers for careful, organic farming, they can feed their families and also help develop their own communities."

She loves to explain the concept at the store, which she describes as "the blessing of three-in-one."

"Not only does a purchase at Lamb's Gate Market bless the recipient of the unique and one-of-a-kind item, but it also blesses the artisan who made the item or farmed the product," Reasons said. "The third blessing is that 100 percent of our net proceeds go to Remar Orphanage in Nicaragua. ... That is the best feel-good purchase anyone can make in this holiday gifting season."

The merchandise comes from Ten Thousand Villages, a well respected fair trade company. Among the items sold are art work and other home furnishings, coffee, chocolate, soap, jewelry, scarves, bags and much more. Pictures of the orphans are placed throughout the store as a reminder of "why we're doing this," Reasons said.

The merchandise has been selling well, she said.

"We're thrilled with how the community has embraced this," she said, adding the market is available to host parties as well.

She's hoping to see more community members shop locally and support the store so that despite startup costs — which were smaller than most businesses but still a factor — there will be some money to send to Remar Orphanage by the end of the year.

For the past 10 years, the orphanage has gotten much support from members of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, where Reasons' husband, the Rev. Allen Reasons, is head pastor. But the store is a new effort to raise funds for the village.

The idea came up as Laurie Reasons was transitioning into early retirement from a career as an airline sales manager, the result of a company merger.

"I felt lost and worried my best days were behind me," she said.

She then realized the "sweet Nicaraguan orphanage our church had supported for more than a decade was in need of much help, and I now had the time," she said.

The first thing she decided to do was to round up sponsors for the 80 orphans back in Nicaragua, which provides a nutrition program that at one time had been successful in previous years.

Then one day, a friend reminded Laurie Reasons that three years prior, she and her daughter, Katherine Reasons Pyles, had toyed with the idea of opening a fair trade store, and that could fund a revenue stream to provide the orphans with basic necessities, education and improved housing.

Pyles, who is now vice president of the market, has a passion for fair trade, even focusing her senior project at Marshall on hosting a festival sale for Ten Thousand Villages in 2009.

"It went so well that she and I began dreaming of the day we would bring a fair trade store to Huntington," Laurie Reasons said. "That idea slid to the back burner — until this autumn. The time was suddenly right.

"The discussions of a business plan were resurrected, and meetings began in earnest in early September. We opened the doors to our store about a month later," Laurie Reasons said. "I understand that this was a shockingly quick process, but when God is orchestrating an idea, the details magically fall into place."

The "magic" was carried out by the help of many community members, inside and outside Fifth Avenue Baptist Church. The store is not officially affiliated with the church, though many volunteers have come from it.

Here are a few more examples of support shown to the market:

—Safety engineer Matt Withers built the cashier's desk and art professor Brent Thomas painted the logo — which was designed by Reasons' son, Preston Reasons of Bulldog Creative — onto the desk.

—CPA Roberta Johnson is offering free bookkeeping services.

—A local attorney who wishes to remain anonymous is donating legal services.

—Kim Jones and Nancy Rigney of Creative Kitchens offered design help and are volunteer staff.

—Phil Cline "was our initial benefactor and supporter," Laurie Reasons said. "His jumping in with both feet at the very beginning is what gave us the confidence that this business was truly supposed to happen."

—Other local religious organizations are pitching in as well. For example, St. Joseph schools are helping round up uniforms for the orphans. Our Lady of Fatima asked if it could include an item about the store in its bulletin, and First Methodist Church allowed store representatives to promote the market at a church luncheon.

—Doug Myers, whose family runs Pita Pit, and Vicky and Pete Cooper of Old Village Roaster, donated the pallets used to decorate and also delivered them.

—Kim Lake of Mug & Pia and Simply Whisk "was instrumental in helping us get set up," Laurie Reasons said. "She could have viewed us as a competitor, but instead, she welcomed us with open arms and has since served as a mentor."

—LoveHappiness Photography volunteered to design brochures and marketing materials. Third Line Studios has taken other photos, "unsolicited but much appreciated," Laurie Reasons said.

—Wanda Tolley provided funds for the sign.

—Local optometrist Dr. Chris Ratcliff built drawers for the desk. He and wife, Renee, sponsor two orphans.

A number of local businesses donated glass, furniture and other items.

"It's been fun to watch it happen," Laurie Reasons said. "People with a great deal of expertise came forward. It's been stunning."

Rigney said helping design the space was just a way to contribute.

"I kept seeing postings about it on Facebook," she said. "I always wanted to go (on a mission trip to Nicaragua) and haven't gone, so I just said, 'What can I do?'"

Following the experience, she's now planning to make a trip to Nicaragua in February.

Another volunteer is Lindsay Yeager, who brings her new baby along for her shifts.

"My husband and I were blessed with our firstborn in July, so I knew traveling to Nicaragua wasn't in our near future," Yeager said. "Volunteering at Lamb's Gate is my way of thanking God for the many blessings in my life, along with helping the orphanage (where our family's sponsored child lives)."

Bringing her son is a way to demonstrate the importance of giving back, she said.

"It's our job to show we are Christians by our love," she said. "This is how I show my love."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.