Cindy Lips and Tara Bibb took a look at families like theirs in affluent Arlington County and knew that holiday gift-giving can be a stressful, over-commercialized activity that is hard to avoid. At the same time, those who overspend on extravagances live side by side with neighbors who need real help.
Any parent who sees gift lust aborning in his or her child’s eyes this time of year also worries just what this buying, wrapping and exchanging extravaganza is teaching the next generation.
The answer came from Bibb’s mother: Set up an alternative gift fair, where families can learn what their modest and not-so-modest gift budgets can do outside the big-box stores, and where youngsters can learn the habit of helping out those in need.
The Gifts That Give Hope Alternative Gift Fair will launch in Arlington for the first time Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian Church. Fairfax County’s second fair was held last weekend, and the Annapolis fair is Thursday at On Pointe Dance Studio.
In Arlington, donors with $10 can buy a child four brand-new books through First Book-Northern Virginia. For $15, a mine-detection dog will get training treats, courtesy of Marshall Legacy Institute. For $25, Doorways for Women and Families will be able to buy diapers for a month for one of its clients.
Scores of gift suggestions will be provided by the nonprofit groups that will attend. In return for the tax-deductible contribution, donors will receive a gift card that informs Uncle Mike that instead of a joke tie, a gift in his name provides dental care to a homeless person.
“It’s nice, because I try to pick organizations with causes close to their hearts,” Bibb said. “My grandparents love anything to do with animals. My mom loves youth, so I’ll find something that helps children.”
Her mother, Jeannie Kruidenier, started the fair in Mechanicsburg, Pa., in 2009, and it has since expanded to seven fairs in four states this year.
Here’s how it works: As families enter the fair, Lips said, they’ll be given a shopping list of the 13 participating nonprofit groups and their needs. Donors can ask representatives of those groups questions and seek more information. Children will be offered a shopping list where all gifts are $5 and are pictured.
After a family makes its choices, they will get a gift card that notes that the donor’s gift to a group will help 50 homeless kids take the Metro to an art museum, for example. The gift card doesn’t state the monetary amount of the donation. Although there are suggested amounts, the nonprofit organizations will accept any level of giving, Lips said.
The women planned the fair as a cheery event, with music, a professional photographer who will shoot photos of families with Santa, storytelling and arts and crafts.
“We wanted to create an event that attracted families with children, where they can have a festive time,” Lips said.
The umbrella agency, Gifts That Give Hope, allows local organizers to take 10 percent of the donations to cover the cost of staging the fair, but, Lips and Bibb said, local businesses, including Linden Resources, have donated goods and services so that 100 percent of every donation will go to the nonprofit groups.
“We really don’t know what to expect,” Lips said. “Some [fairs] make $1,300, some make $20,000. We feel good about any amount of money we can bring to any of these organizations.”
The Annapolis fair is Thursday, Dec. 8, 6-11 p.m., On Pointe Dance Studio, 44 Maryland Ave. The Arlington fair is Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Trinity Presbyterian Church, 5533 N. 16th St. Online participation is available through Dec. 20 at www.giftsthatgivehope.org/Arlington.