Mark Fraczek was in his senior year of high school when he launched his own business, a handmade leather goods company using recycled leather from thrift stores and donated materials.

Within a month, the rug was pulled out from under Fraczek when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

As the 18-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Surrey watched his sales slow down, he began thinking thought about how he could run his business while doing God’s will and giving back to the community.

Fraczek turned to a religious sister at his parish for advice. He told Sister Hae-Jin Lim, a Salesian sister and teacher at Holy Cross Regional Secondary, of his idea of starting a fundraiser for the less fortunate. He asked which shelters he could donate funds to.

Sister Lim, who also runs the Salesian Youth Leadership Team that Fraczek was a part of, suggested they collaborate together. The leadership team, a group of Grade 11 and 12 students from Holy Cross and Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, had been planning to create care packages in the winter.

Fraczek took their idea a step further by turning it into an initiative to raise money for the homeless, and the Giving Hands fundraising campaign was born. Run in collaboration with Fraczek, the Salesian sisters, the Salesian leadership team, and students from Holy Cross, it started Dec. 6 and continues to Dec. 20.

Fraczek has designed and created leather Christmas ornaments (made from used materials) that he and Sister Lim are selling through socially-distanced sales and online for $7 each. The ornament sales will sponsor care packages for the homeless.

Holy Cross students are creating the 200 care packages by picking up purchased supplies at the sisters’ convent and taking them home to put them together. Once wrapped, packages are brought back to the convent, where the sisters prepare them for donation to the Surrey Urban Mission Society, a faith-based volunteer-run community kitchen and shelter.

Fraczek has also set up a donation link on his website for those interested in supporting the society without purchasing a leather ornament. He kickstarted that fundraiser by donating $100 to the cause. Donations will go toward purchasing kitchen equipment and providing meals, clothing, and other supplies for the poor and homeless.

“I hope that our care packages will make a difference for [the less fortunate]. I know it’ll be a small difference, but I hope that it’ll make their Christmas better.”

He previously volunteered with the mission society one Christmas and felt inspired by their mission. “Hopefully, this fundraiser will be the start to enable me to do something bigger down the line,” such as helping the homeless find ways of getting off the street.

It’s a long way from what Fraczek had in mind when he launched his business. He simply wanted to buy a leather card holder for himself, but noticed that “the ones available were so expensive for something so simple.”

After watching YouTube videos and helping out in his uncle’s woodworking shop, Fraczek made his first leather product. From there, his interest in creating leather goods grew into his own small business, and eventually Giving Hands. 

“One thing that I’ve always thought of is how I can be a businessman but also do God’s will,” he told The B.C. Catholic.

“It’s not as straightforward as saying that you’re a nurse and you’re helping people all day,” he said.

“All the homilies and Gospels coming up to Advent seem to be all about helping the poor, so I thought it would be good to create a fundraiser for them.” 

For more information on Giving Hands, visit @markfraczekleathergoods on Instagram or their website, https://markfraczekleathergoods.square.site.