While Heifer International has long promoted living gift markets, Gifts That Give Hope takes this idea and spreads it out to benefit multiple causes.
Gifts That Give Hope is a nonprofit that helps communities host alternative gift fairs. Each year, the average American spends more than $800 on Christmas gifts; alternative gift fairs offer meaningful alternatives in the form of donations to charities.
The first Gifts That Give Hope fair launched in 2007 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Since then, the organization has helped organize alternative gift fairs across the United States, raising more than $435,000 and helping more than 120 local, national and international nonprofits.
Jennifer Knepper, the coordinator for a fair in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said having a variety of organizations to choose from is important, as each donor has unique values and passions, and each organization appeals to a different demographic. Knepper said Gifts That Give Hope tries to make the fair a personal and educational experience for visitors.
“Any issue is multi-faceted,” she said. “I think if we each got involved in some aspect, we could address things a little more.”
Norma Good, volunteer coordinator for the Southeast Pennsylvania (SEPA) Volunteer Heifer Committee, said 2015 was the sixth year Heifer was represented at the fair. Norma and her husband have worked with Heifer for 26 years.
“It’s not just ‘let’s not give gifts that people don’t want anymore,’ it’s to teach people that you give to a cause,” Good said. “It’s to stress the alternative gift and the whole business of giving to a cause.”
Knepper helped start the Gifts That Give Hope Fair in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2008, and in its first year, the group raised $30,000 for 30 nonprofits. The fair has continued every year since. In 2015, the fair raised $1,358.50 for Heifer: 37 people gave $10 for a share of a sheep, 21 people gave $30 for honey bees and the remaining funds were undesignated.
The Lancaster fair comprises 60 percent local organizations and 40 percent national and international organizations, including Heifer. Causes include poverty and injustice, hunger, homelessness, human trafficking, education and abuse.
“We try to choose things that are relevant or on people’s radar,” Knepper said. “What we really want to do is take it to the level so when they come to the gift fair it’s about raising awareness and understanding.”
The fair strives to create a family-friendly atmosphere, with snacks and child-oriented activities. In 2014, the Southeast Pennsylvania Volunteer Heifer Committee bought a cow costume, an addition that, according to Good, draws a lot of attention to their table. Good and her fellow volunteers also set up a craft table where children can make puppet animals and other Heifer-related crafts.
Lancaster’s ninth annual gift fair will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on December 10 at the Farm and Home Center.
Photos provided by Jennifer Knepper