SHELTERED WORKSHOP DEN AZALEE HAS BEEN COLLABORATING WITH OXFAM FAIR TRADE SINCE 2009. THE ORGANISATION HAS MULTIPLE SITES AND THE EMPLOYEES AND CUSTOMERS CAN ENJOY DELICIOUS OXFAM COFFEE AT ALL OF THEM. THEY SERVE WINE, SPARKLING WINE AND THE BIO DECAF COFFEE IN THEIR RESTAURANTS. “AS A LARGE COMPANY WE CAN CERTAINLY RECOMMEND A COLLABORATION WITH OXFAM FAIR TRADE”, SAYS TEAM LEADER MADY VERLAECKT. “NOT JUST FOR THE FANTASTIC SERVICE AND QUALITY BUT ALSO THE SUSTAINABILITY THAT THIS PARTNERSHIP ENDORSES.”
Den Azalee began modestly with six people in the recycling centre and ironing workshop in Sint-Niklaas in 1995. Today the social organisation has three second-hand shops, a social restaurant, a bicycle repair point … and more than 300 employees.
Managing Director Peter Maris helped start up the organisation in 1995. The Public Centre for Social Welfare in Sint-Niklaas started a project to create jobs for those who had difficulties finding work. A small yet ambitious social economy employer was born. Just how ambitious exactly? Mady Verlaeckt: “In our first 2 years we collected 150 tonnes of goods to recycle or process. Everything was picked up in a wheelbarrow. Now we process more than 3,000 tonnes, 50 % is reused and 44 % is recycled into reusable raw materials.”
325 employees currently have meaningful, paying jobs: in one of the three second-hand shops, in the social restaurant that serves affordable meals to approximately 100 people every day, at the bicycle (repair) point near the Sint-Niklaas train station or with the ‘handyman’ service that insulates roofs, renovates houses and so much more. About 250 of them had been unemployed for a very long time. Those people now have a paying job and receive training, giving them a chance to transition from the social economy to the ‘regular’ job market. They are supported by a team of approximately 30 motivated volunteers.
Oxfam & Den Azalee: striving for a living income together
Mady: “Den Azalee’s vision and mission are crystal clear: we provide a future for mankind and the environment. Everyone who wants to work has a right to work. To achieve this goal we develop regionally oriented activities and employment, according to the principle of sustainable, environmentally-friendly and ethical entrepreneurship. People living on social benefits are not really ‘living’. In case you are still in doubt: with social benefits you’re still living under the poverty level.” Den Azalee and Oxfam share the same view on this. We too strive for a decent living income, both in Belgium and abroad, where our cacao and coffee producers live, for example.
Mady confirms: “It goes without saying that we want to see the organisations we work with embrace our vision and mission; that’s why Oxfam is such a perfect fit. Oxfam stands for fair trade, and more. Fair trade means you fight against injustice and poverty; Den Azalee works really hard for this.”
Oxfam coffee for everyone: 300+ employees and every customer
Den Azalee has been serving Oxfam Fair Trade coffee for more than 10 years, literally everywhere. In the employee cafeteria, in the second-hand shops in Sint-Niklaas, Temse and Sint-Gillis-Waas. Who enjoys the coffee the most? The customers and employees at the social restaurant and Bistro De Variant. Mady adds: “The coffee is absolutely delicious. But so is a glass of wine or sparkling wine from Oxfam! And if we have something to celebrate, the gifts also come from the Oxfam-Wereldwinkel.”
“I can absolutely positively recommend a collaboration”, she continues. “Sustainability has become a really important part of the business culture in many companies in Sint-Niklaas. A collaboration with Oxfam can only strengthen this.”
Without any smugness Den Azalee can call itself a business that is setting a good example. They are ticking off more sustainability boxes in the reuse sector and the circular economy, the environment and the social economy for employment. Den Azalee’s DNA is reflected in that of Oxfam, says Mady. “So Oxfam is of great value to us and they support our core message.”
2021, everything can be improved!
Mady is eagerly looking forward to next year. She and the entire Den Azalee team have a clear message: “Reuse has become so much more than just some New Year’s resolutions. It’s become a way of life. Second-hand is always (the) first-choice. Or at least it should be. Not just for your wallet, but also to live and love, to free your mind. ‘Recycling for the win’ is our slogan. Who wins? The environment and those who are vulnerable. So we all win. Because the choices we make today lay the foundations for the future.”