Mann and four other Presbyterians founded Import Peace after taking a trip to Palestine in 2006 with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Mann says the group of 100 was moved by the economic hardships of life in the Occupied Territories. Their trip included visits with families whose poverty deprived them of nutritious meals.
“We had an elevated sense of pain and frustration for what we had seen, felt and experienced with these people,” Mann says. They asked their Palestinian hosts how they could help. The Presbyterians were told of the need to sell Palestinian products.
“That’s when we thought about trying to bring olive oil from Palestine to the United States and try to bring a little bit of economic improvement among the Palestinians,” Mann says. “But I think more importantly we want to raise the awareness among churches and peacemaking groups as to what they could and should be doing to support people in that part of the world.”
In addition to Mann, the organizers of Import Peace are two other people from Crosslake (Minn.) Church in Minnesota Valleys Presbytery, Arloa Ellertson and her son, Chad (a high school sophomore when he visited Palestine), and two Pennsylvanians, Cynthia Arnold and her daughter, Ebony Britton.
As a retired sales and marketing professional, Mann knew that research and a business plan would be crucial to the venture’s success. A year of data collection included trips to Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto to visit other groups importing Palestinian olive oil. “We got resounding support and encouragement to go forward,” he says.
Mann lent the organization startup funds and operations began last fall. During the months leading up to Christmas, Import Peace sold 99 of the first 100 cases ordered. “This year we have 350 cases in the warehouse and we hope that will get us through the holidays,” Mann says.
Import Peace promotes the olive oil by personal contact with congregations and through their Web site.
Most sales, he says, are during the Christmas and Easter seasons. A case of 12 bottles can be purchased via the Internet for $215 including shipping. Congregations frequently act as distributors by purchasing the olive oil by the case and selling the 750 milliliter bottles to individuals. Three bottles can be purchased from the Website for $70 including shipping.
The fair-trade network of farmers and distributors boosts the Palestinian economy by assuring producers a reasonable price for their products.
In addition to helping Palestinians by purchasing wholesale quantities of olive oil, Import Peace sends $2 from each bottle it sells to three charities in Palestine. They include the Palestine Fair Trade Association, which funds a micro loan program for aspiring entrepreneurs, college scholarships for the children of farmers, and an olive tree planting program to replace trees destroyed by the building of the security barrier; the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee, an advisory service that helps farmers increase their yield; and Ahli Arab Christian Hospital, which serves the strife-torn Gaza area.
Mann is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network[www.israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org]. He says the group has been an enthusiastic promoter of Import Peace. Crosslake Church [www.crosslakepresbyterian.org], is acting as fiscal agent while Import Peace pursues 501 C-3 status with the Internal Revenue Service.
Some customers, Mann says, buy the olive oil because it’s a “neat gift.” Ultimately, however, he wants attitudes to change through the work of Import Peace.
“Our real goal is to increase awareness of the people in America to the plight of Palestinians,” Mann says, adding that he wants Americans to “understand that every Middle Easterner is not a terrorist.”