Social Justice History within the UU Fellowship

When we hear the words “social justice”, we usually think of providing a service to or support for people suffering from an injustice or misfortune. However, the UUA’s department of Social Justice expands this definition to include three additional elements of social justice work: education, witness, and advocacy.

Described below are several local social justice service projects and programs that through the years have been administered under the umbrella of the Social Justice Steering Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Vero Beach.

Sharing of Sustenance Sunday:  Our Fellowship has been observing Sharing of Sustenance Sunday since our 1989-90 fiscal year. On the second Sunday of every month, congregants bring non-perishable food or money for the Food Pantry of Indian River County, located at 2228 15th Avenue in Vero Beach. The cash is used by the Food Pantry to buy food items from a food bank in Ft. Pierce.   Clare Nichols initiated this Social Justice project which continues today.

Meals and toiletries for homeless shelters:  In 2003, our Fellowship decided to provide one meal per month for the Hope for Families Center. Today we serve three other agencies for persons in transition: Camp Haven, the Samaritan Center, and a duplex for veterans built by Every Dream Has a Price.  Congregants gather at 1 PM to prepare and deliver a complete meal on our assigned Tuesday.  Sample-sized or hotel-size personal care products are also collected; a box for these items is located in the Fellowship office. Liz Mayo and Anne Tschinkel initiated this Social Justice project which is now co-chaired by Kathy Barnes and Jennifer Hadel.

Upcycle it! Thrift Store and Art Boutique of KIRB:  Keep Indian River Beautiful collects a treasure trove of materials for teachers, scout leaders, and crafters to use for arts and crafts projects. Since these items might otherwise end up in the landfill, this program serves both teachers and the environment.  Congregants can bring all types of craft supplies as well as fabric, yarn, shoe boxes with lids, greeting card fronts, coffee cans, candles, Styrofoam egg cartons, just to name a few. (For a complete listing of recovery items, look on the collection bin in the lobby)  A large collection container can be found in the lobby near the women’s restroom.  In 2004, Susan Winters initiated this Social Justice project with the help of Anne Tschinkel.

Farm worker Concerns and Project Niños:  Improving the lives of Florida farm workers has long been an area of concern in our Fellowship. Project Niños is a Christmas gifting program for families served by Redlands Christian Migrant Association, a Florida agency. Money is donated to purchase gift cards so that the parents can provide Christmas gifts and a holiday dinner for their own family. During the winter months, clothing is also collected for migrant farm workers. Gently used toys, books, and children’s clothing are also welcomed .  Norma and Carlos Mooney initiated this Social Justice project in 2001;  co-chaired Denise Haight and Maria Sobkowiak took over the program from the Mooneys.  Currently Joan Roth, Sue Doss, and Barbara Zitz co-chair the project.

Acting also through education and witness, members of the Fellowship were educated about and encouraged to participate in the boycott of Wendy’s, organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Florida. Both Wendy’s and Publix supermarkets continue to refuse to sign on to the Fair Food Project which calls for better wages and a human rights code of conduct for better working conditions for the farm workers who pick tomatoes and other produce.

Participation in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade:  Since 1995 a contingent of Fellowship members and friends has marched in the January parade held along a 3-mile route in Gifford.  Rev. Richard Speck spoke one year at the program following the parade. Another year our expanded chorus sang  “We’ll Build a Land” in the program. In the early days, marchers carried a cloth banner that identified our group.  In 2008 two sturdier banners were donated.  Dick Haight continues to coordinate this program.

Little Free Library: Our committee and the LRE Committee co-sponsor a Little Free Library box located at the United Against Poverty Grocery on Old Dixie Highway south of Oslo Road.  Donations of books, especially children’s books are always needed.  Nancy Stiefel initiated this project.

Coalition for Racial Justice: The Fellowship began a group in 2016 (formerly known as Black Lives Matter) that meets twice a month on alternate Fridays at 4:00 PM in the UUFVB library.  Their meetings are always open to new members. Rev. Alexander and Dr. Crystal Bujol began the group. The current co-chairs are Karen Swanson and Dr. Jackie Warrior.

Fair Trade Corner:  In June of 2001, just as world coffee market prices were beginning to collapse, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Coffee Project was launched at General Assembly. This project partners UUSC with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned fair trade organization founded in 1986. Buying coffee, tea, and cocoa directly from farmer cooperatives, Equal Exchange follows the standards and principles of fair trade on 100 percent of its products, ensuring that low-income farmers earn a fair price for their products. Direct payment to farmers also eliminates the middlemen, giving farmers a much larger share of the profits. In 2001 alone, Equal Exchange paid farmers almost $1 million above what they would have earned under conventional trade practices. This allows farmers to better meet their families’ basic needs, such as food, education, and health care. In partnership with these small farmer cooperatives from India and Tanzania to Guatemala and Mexico, Equal Exchange also provides essential pre-harvest credits, gives technical assistance to cooperatives, encourages environmentally sustainable practices, and healthy and safe working conditions.

In 2002, UUFVB’s Social Activities Committee made the commitment to serve only Fair Trade coffee on Sunday mornings. The Committee knew that this single act of conscience was making a difference in the lives of small coffee farmers. The Committee was serving not just a cup of coffee, but a just cup! Because the organically-grown, shade-grown coffee is also more delicious, congregants wanted the coffee for home use as well. Our Fair Trade Corner began selling the coffee in small packages and encouraging other Fellowship committees to serve Fair Trade coffee at their meetings and events. In just three years, their product line has grown to include teas, baking cocoa, hot cocoa mix, chocolate bars, organically grown cashews, bean soup mixes, and notepaper products made from the dung of endangered elephants (known as Elli Pooh products). Gale Parmentier chairs this Social Justice project which Susan Winters began.

Green Sanctuary:  At the April 4, 2006, meeting of the UUFVB Board, the committee received unanimous support for embarking upon the Green Sanctuary program! The program led to the certification of our Fellowship as a Green Sanctuary. A Task Force with a broad representation from many Fellowship committees was assembled. The next step was to conduct an audit of Fellowship practices in many areas including energy usage, energy conservation, water conservation, recycling, waste reduction, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, socially responsible purchasing and investing policies, landscaping policies, use of toxic chemicals, and environmental religious education for children and adults. All of these areas plus our worship services relate to the seventh UU principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. They also relate to the 2006 Statement of Conscience passed at General Assembly in June: The Threat of Global Warming.  The third step was to write an Action Plan of 12 projects to be implemented by the congregation and its committees to observe more environmentally responsible practices. These projects fell within four categories: sustainable living, worship and celebration, education, and environmental justice. Susan Winters and Nancy Stiefel co-chaired the original Task Force.

Social Justice Film Series:  The film series, begun in October 2006 and run for nine years, showed “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary about global warming narrated by Al Gore, as its initial film. Topics of films included the environment, food and nutrition, the Iraq war, the credit card industry, women’s issues, and bigotry and intolerance.  Nancy Stiefel coordinated this program with the assistance of Glenn Rogers and Deborah West.

National and Global Focus:  Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Much of the national and international work of the Social Justice Committee is done through our Fellowship’s support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).  Each November the Fellowship holds a “Guest at Your Table” service to inform and raise funds for UUSC.  March often features a Justice Sunday service. UUSC President and Executive Director Charlie Clements spoke about the Iraq war at a service in 2008. Staff member, Martha Thompson, spoke about the Darfur genocide in 2007. Rev. Dr. William Schultz spoke from our Fellowship’s pulpit in March, 2011.For a description of UUSC and our involvement with this important human rights and social justice organization, go to www.uusc.org.  Jack Stiefel initiated our congregation’s involvement with UUSC; Andrew Sorbo serves that role today.