Franciscan Peacemakers social enterprise opens retail store in Walnut Hill

Gifts for the Journey sells products made by women who have survived sexual exploitation

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Gifts for the Journey, a social enterprise of Milwaukee nonprofit organization Franciscan Peacemakers, has opened a new retail store in Milwaukee’s Walnut Hill neighborhood.

The store, located at 3333 W. Lisbon Ave., celebrated its grand opening Saturday. Gifts for the Journey sells bar soaps and other bath and body products made by women in Milwaukee who have survived sexual exploitation or trafficking. It also provides a supportive workplace for the women to learn skills in manufacturing, packaging, marketing, sales and administration.

Franciscan Peacemakers started the social enterprise in 2012 and has sold the product line at farmers markets, events and online until now. The program is modeled after a similar program, Thistle Farms, in Nashville.

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Gifts for the Journey currently employs four women, all of whom are survivors of trafficking. The social enterprise pays for the jobs it provides. Last year, it netted $130,000 in sales.

“We hope to have a surplus, which we would then just roll right back into the services we provide,” said Shelly Roder, director of Gifts for the Journey. “We hope to be able to employ more people with jobs that, not only are they living-wage jobs, but they’re in an environment of support.”

Earlier this year, the organization moved its Gifts for the Journey production from the second floor of a former convent at St. Martin de Porres, 128 W. Burleigh St, to the space on Lisbon Avenue.

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“We’ve been doing outreach on Lisbon Avenue for 25 years; that’s been one of the strips in Milwaukee we’ve served, so to have a spot open right in the heart of where we do street outreach, it was exactly where we need to be,” Roder said. “… I think there’s something really powerful about being right on the street where we’re visible to the people we’re serving and visible to the people exploiting them.”

In August, Fransiscan Peacemakers opened a hospitality center at the Lisbon Avenue facility, which is open to women five days a week.

“We have coffee and lunches and just the presence of people who are there to listen and refer them to other services,” Roder said.

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The retail store will be open Tuesday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The hours correlate with Amaranth Bakery’s, which is located next door.

Franciscan Peacemakers was founded by two Franciscan Capuchin priests in 1995 as an outreach ministry to women engaged in prostitution, the homeless and families in poverty.

In 2014, the organization opened Clare Community, a home that provides two years of rent-free housing to women seeking to leave prostitution and alcohol/drug abuse. During that time, the women have the option of working at Gifts for the Journey and are encouraged to save half of their income for when they leave the program.

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