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Florida Catholic Franciscan Sisters Set Sights on Starbucks' Bucks

A Pittsburgh community of Franciscan sisters has entered the world of private-label coffee brands, aiding both their own aging sisters and poor Honduran coffee farmers in the process. They launched their own coffee label - Franciscan Blend - earlier this spring, using fair-trade beans imported from the Central American country.

The sisters will use the income to help support their elderly and infirm sisters. And through fair trade, the farmers are guaranteed a stable, fair price for their products, giving them economic security. The farmers are organized into cooperatives which link them directly to coffee importers.

Franciscan Blend is available in 12-ounce bags of regular medium blend, with decaf to be added soon.

"We feel it's a win-win situation by marketing Franciscan Blend coffee," said Sister J. Lora Dambroski, U.S. provincial minister for the order, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God.

"We, the sisters, are able to assist Latin American farmers by purchasing our coffee through a fair-trade cooperative. In turn, the congregation is able to use the net proceeds to help further our ministries as well as care for our elderly and infirm sisters," she told the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Sister Lora also is president-elect of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which actively supports the use of fair-trade products.

Fair trade ensures that farmers and artisans in developing countries receive fair prices, giving them -- rather than corporate retail and wholesale interests -- more of the retail price.

The idea for Franciscan Blend came from the sisters' development director, Nick Rodi.

"Sister Lora and the council were all very much in favor of it," he said.

He arranged with an artist-friend to design the label and contracted with Arbuckle's Coffee Co. in Verona to sell it and O'Neill Coffee Co. in West Middlesex to roast the beans.

Arbuckle's has been "very, very cooperative with us," Rodi said.

The sisters have already sold some 20 percent of their annual goal of 2,000 bags of coffee, he estimated.

"We've had a good response. Everyone who bought it said it's really good tasting, and it's really fresh," he said, noting that it is packaged two days after roasting.

The coffee sales are just one way the order is meeting current and future needs. The sisters conduct an annual fund campaign, have a planned-giving program in place, and host an autumn fundraising dinner and a spring-fling benefit.

The order numbers about 65 sisters at the convent in the Whitehall area of Pittsburgh; there they also staff a retreat center and day-care center. The sisters also work in parish ministry. The order has members in other cities as well as in Brazil and Lithuania.

The coffee sells for $10.99 for 12 ounces, plus $5 shipping. Shipping costs $7 per order for two to 10 bags and is free for 11 or more bags. Franciscan Blend can be ordered online or by calling 412-885-7223.

Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops