Couple to fund soup kitchen in Mongolia

By AMY CALDER, Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel, Dec 9, 2007

WATERVILLE, Maine (USA) -- Steve and Tina Swift read an article last month about children in Mongolia, hundreds of them, living in underground sewers -- dirty, cold and hungry.

The article was about a nun who cares for sick and abandoned babies and children in that vast Asian country, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south.

Compelled to help, the Swifts decided to donate $6,000 to a soup kitchen in the capital of Ulan Bator and to help an education center there as well.

"We don't live alone and we're not supposed to," Tina Swift said. "We're human beings and human beings need each other."

The couple own Swift Arrow, a wholesale jewelry manufacturer and distributor off Elm Street that focuses on making and selling quality pieces while educating the public about environmental and political issues, as well as charitable causes.

They believe that as owners of a small business, they are obligated to help provide not only for themselves and their employees, but also for others in the world. They decided that buying food for children, albeit in a faraway country, was important.

"There's no safety net there, but for children in America, there is," Tina Swift said. "We felt that, as global citizens, we all have to be aware and we all have to look out for each other."

Steve Swift said the donation will buy food for up to 2,500 children a month at the soup kitchen. Each meal costs only about 20 cents.

"When I figured that out, I said, 'How could you not do it?'" he said. "I can't walk past a fridge without stuffing my face and these people don't have a fridge. Some have no shoes."

The Swifts are donating to the Lotus Centre, an educational center, and the Dolma Living Community Centre, both in Ulan Bator.

In the spring they hope to visit the centers, which are funded through FPMT Mongolia, an international nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore., and founded in 1975 by a Buddhist monk. The letters in the name stand for "The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition."

Chuck Latimer, the organization's development director, said the Swifts' donation is a significant one.

"Every donation is important, to say the least," Latimer said. "Theirs is a sizable amount."

FPMT supports clinics, education centers, hospices, soup kitchens, monasteries and nunneries all over the world.

"We're a Buddhist organization, so obviously we collect a lot of donations from the Buddhist community in general, but the way the Swifts found us was through a collection of writings by George Crane," Latimer said. "So, we're also in a position of looking to reach out into more secular areas because many of our projects provide services to the general population of Mongolia. It's always wonderful when somebody comes in from outside the Buddhist community because it's like brand-new blood into an organization. I really appreciate all (the Swifts) are doing. It's really amazing."

To spread awareness about children's needs in Mongolia, the Swifts place in all their jewelry shipments cards with information about the soup kitchen and education center.

"Hopefully, our giving will be the impetus for someone else to do the same," Tina Swift said.

This is not the first time the Swifts have donated time, energy and funds to charitable causes.

For five years they have donated sterling silver necklaces to all graduates of the Seeds of Peace international camp in Otisfield. The camp seeks to empower young people from regions of conflict with leadership skills required to promote reconciliation and co-existence. Teenagers from places such as Israel, Palestine and Egypt spend a month at the camp living side-by-side with others they have been taught are their enemies. The Swifts include informational cards about Seeds of Peace in their jewelry shipments.

In business 30 years, the couple sells to more than 1,000 businesses all over the United States and, locally, to stores such as Sign of the Sun and Larsen's Jewelry.

Their jewelry includes southwest turquoise, semiprecious stones and other designs featuring nature themes. They started going to Hong Kong in 2001 and started carrying a line of jewelry called "Pearl Dream," which consists of boutique-style pieces, whereas Swift Arrow represents more gift shop-type items.

The couple's giving has included donating a percentage of their profits to environmental groups.