By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Last June during Sunday Mass at Mary Queen of Peace Church, two congregants were so moved by the homilist’s request for financial assistance, they held a business meeting after church to brainstorm ways to raise money for the charitable cause.
The fact that two Catholic business people desired to take action came as no surprise, but the ages of the entrepreneurs did raise a few eyebrows: they were all of 8 and 9 years old.
The pint-size business gurus – Mary Queen of Peace fourth grader Mia Cresap and her sister Ava, a second grader – launched “Hair Ties for Haiti,” a home-based fundraising endeavor in which they make and sell hair ties and direct the proceeds to the construction of homes in Haiti.
Each card of two matching hair ties costs $3, with every penny going to Food for the Poor, an ecumenical Christian non-profit that provides food, medicine and shelter in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Cresap sisters’ focus area of Haiti.
The idea to sell hair ties was hatched after the girls heard a visiting priest, Father Thomas Bouterie of Food for the Poor, speak on the need for decent houses in Haiti. New homes there cost just $3,600 to build, the priest told Mass congregants.
“There was a little magazine by each pew. We looked in it and we saw a house with dirt floors. They had to sleep on dirt floors!” Ava said. “It had holes, so if it rained it could get knocked over easily. The new house will have locking doors and it will be a very safe house.”
Father Bouterie also mentioned that there were “a lot of poor people in Haiti, so we felt sad for them,” Mia said. “We decided to ask our parents if we could build a house for them.”
Having just learned how to make hair ties at camp, the Cresap sisters realized they had the perfect product to sell.
“I thought a lot of girls would like them because these hair ties don’t crease your hair or anything,” Mia said.
They buy their materials at craft stores, with start-up funds provided by their parents, Douglas and Renée Cresap, and their grandparents. The youngsters also tapped into their family piggy bank of spare change and sold a piece of furniture and clothing they had outgrown.
The division of labor generally goes like this: Mia cuts the elastic binding into nine-inch segments and Ava knots them.
The hair ties are available in various styles. There are glittery ones and seasonal ones for celebrations such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and birthdays.
“We’re starting to sell some Halloween ones because it’s coming up,” Mia said. “We have a lot of school ones in our school colors (of blue and green),” she added.
“There’s (also) casual ones with butterflies and rainbows – we have all kinds of girlie stuff that we just got,” Ava notes. “There’s chevron ones and cheer ones – with that megaphone thing – because we have cheer at our school and those girls like them. Some girls like our soccer one – it’s got soccer balls with pink sparkles around it.”
The sisters also received a large donation of LSU- and Saints-themed elastic from a woman in Shreveport whose craft store was going out of business.
“She gave us a big box of them for free,” Mia said. “It looked like she gave us the rest of her store or something!”
An explanation of the project is printed on each card of hair ties.
“It says ‘Hair Ties for Haiti’ on the top, then it says, ‘Let all that you do be done in love’ – the Bible verse – on the bottom,” Ava explained. “On the back of it there’s a note: ‘Thank you for helping us to raise money for a house in Haiti.’”
Customers can order hair ties by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be made to the Cresaps’ building fund at https://champions.foodforthepoor.org/fundraiser1531043, with 100 percent of proceeds going to the effort.
The success of the endeavor in three short months has inspired the sisters to increase their original goal of building one house. At press time, they had raised $7,701.
“Now we want to build three houses! We want to raise $10,800!” Ava said.
Haiti has been on the Mary Queen of Peace community’s radar since 2011, the year the Mandeville parish began partnering with St. Benoit Parish, a Catholic community of 5,000 families in Dessources, Haiti. Since then, Mary Queen of Peace has helped St. Benoit build a new elementary school, replaced the roof of the church, sponsored Haitian students’ tuition, helped initiate a school lunch program and built a parish-based water well, enabling residents to conveniently access water rather than having to walk a mile downhill for it.
Mary Queen of Peace parishioners travel to St. Benoit each spring to meet their Haitian friends and to hand-deliver essentials collected throughout the year.
“I love that the (Cresap) girls heard about the need for houses in church and wanted to do something to make it come alive,” said Sybil Skansi, principal of Mary Queen of Peace School. “I love that they’re so driven by their faith – and their faith is so instilled in them by their parents and, hopefully, by their school – that they asked for help in putting their feelings into action.”
Skansi said the Cresaps’ service project “has taken on a life of its own.” For example, when an area foster care agency requested 400 cards of the hair ties for their children, Mary Queen of Peace organized a service afternoon to help the Cresaps fill the order.
“It started with the girls hearing the Holy Spirit say, ‘Help in some kind of way to build these houses,’ and now it’s become a way to help another organization help even more kids and in more ways,” Skansi said. “It’s just that contagious spirit of service, rippling outward.”
The Cresap sisters, who both hope to be teachers one day, said they cannot wait to see photos of families enjoying their new homes in Haiti.
“I’m just excited that I can help someone in Haiti be happy,” Mia said.
“I love making the hair ties,” Ava added. “It’s really fun, and I’m really proud of myself for giving to Haiti. I think about all that stuff that I have, and they barely have anything.”
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.