FLDS launches Internet store to raise funds for legal fees

Eldorado, USA - At the newest enterprise launched by an embattled polygamous sect you can buy wishing wells in small, medium, large - and "Texas size."

The wooden wells, intended to be used as yard decorations, are among dozens of handicrafts members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are offering on a newly launched Web site.

The Internet store, fldscrafts.com, is the second online business for the FLDS, who plan to use profits to help support families and pay legal bills.

"We are very blessed but money is very, very tight," said Maggie Jessop, whose children were among those taken as part of what turned out to be the largest child welfare investigation in U.S. history.

Texas authorities raided the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in April and took 439 children into custody. They were returned to their parents after two months.

Most of their mothers moved into apartments across the state and many are still living away from the ranch, Jessop said.

"This is something we put together so mothers involved with [Child Protective Services] would have a way to help bring in income," she said. "Many FLDS people are contributing and donating items from all over Texas and Short Creek."

That is the historical name for the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where 6,000 to 8,000 FLDS members live.

In June, the sect created a clothing Web site, fldsdress.com, that featured its conservative fashions. The FLDS women and girls wear distinctive, solid-colored dresses that cover their bodies from ankle-to-wrist; men and boys wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.

Initially, the site was created so the sect could supply Texas officials with appropriate clothing for children while they were in custody. That site will be merged with the handicraft store.

"Our motive wasn't to convince the world to dress like us," Jessop said. But the public interest made the venture worth the effort.

The craft site is "more of what we want to do," she said. There, shoppers will find wooden toys made by a father and his adult sons in Texas and hair "endies" made by a mother in Short Creek. The wishing wells are made by an elderly man and his older sons, who use scraps leftover at construction job sites.

"We're trying our best to be creative but as inexpensive as we can," Jessop said. "A lot of the crafts are made by the mothers at home in between caring for children that have been involved in Texas."

There are handcrafted pillows, aprons, rocking chairs and other wooden furnishings. The newest line of dresses have more flair - stitched and floral bodices, for instance - than the sect first offered.

"We thought the world would more particularly enjoy these styles," Jessop said.

Still to come: quilts, cookbooks, a unique line of stackable furniture, home-made flannel diapers, musical recordings, wigs styled in hair braids and an instructional videotape on how to braid hair the FLDS way.

"Someone told us that people really admired FLDS hairstyles," Jessop said. "We do not wear wigs but thought we would try it."