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'Alternative' Gifts Can Mean More Than a Present
Charity Fairs Offer Shopping Respite

By Daniele Seiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

Once again the holiday season is here, and frenzied shoppers have begun scrambling to find interesting and meaningful gifts for the people on their lists.

The task can be more than a little daunting -- unbearable lines, long hours and tight budgets -- and the meaning of gift-giving often gets lost in the clamor.

Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington Inc. offers a way to avoid the chaos and give unusual and purposeful presents. From tomorrow to Dec. 10, the group will host "alternative gifts week," when several churches and organizations will have gift fairs or markets at nine locations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia for shoppers to contribute to charitable groups in the names of their loved ones.

The gift fairs have the same basic structure: Shoppers receive a list of "gifts," offered by participating groups, to choose from and can browse among tables where representatives of charities can answer questions. Shoppers can pay for their selected donations at one time and receive individual cards with the gift description written by a calligrapher to send to the people in whose names the donations were made. Some groups will offer choices only from a catalogue rather than an on-site fair.

The selected charities receive 100 percent of the donations.

The idea for a charitable gift fair in the Washington area dates to 1999, when the nonprofit Center for a New American Dream hosted the Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair. The success of the event inspired the creation of a separate organization dedicated to promoting the concept annually in the area.

"We wanted to work together and centralize" our efforts, said J. Beatty McCray, Alternative Gifts' co-chairman.

Interest in the local fairs appears to be growing. Last year, area residents gave more than $100,000 in alternative gifts, McCray said.

One of the more unusual events is the D.C. Happy Hour Alternative Gift Fair. Although many fairs are hosted by and held at area churches, the happy hour event is at the Front Page bar and restaurant at Dupont Circle. Now in its sixth year, the fair made more than $11,000 for eight groups last year.

"The biggest difference and why I started this version was to attract younger, urban professionals, nonprofit employees and students as shoppers who might not make it to a midday weekend event at a church," said Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa, creator of the event.

The gifts are priced a bit lower, and other enticements, such as drink specials and free appetizers, are offered to shoppers.

"Drink beer, save the world, get your shopping done at the same time," Ikle-Khalsa said.

Last year, happy hour shoppers donated such diverse items as 44 pairs of gloves and socks and 136 hot meals for homeless people on Capitol Hill, transportation to medical appointments and job interviews for 29 Katrina evacuees, and 14 irrigation systems to help farmers in Africa. That was done through contributions to such groups as EcoVentures International, Bread for the City, Circle of Health International and the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church.

This year, shoppers will be able to help combat global warming with gifts aimed at helping to offset the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Other choices will be available at upcoming charitable fairs in the area:

Virginia

· 5-9 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday: St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church Alternative Gift Fair, 7 S. King St. (next to Leesburg Restaurant), Leesburg. Contact Peggy Coleman at agf@saintgabriels.net or 703-779-3616. For catalogues, information or to shop online, go to http://www.saintgabriels.net.

· 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday: Reston Alternative Gift Market, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1625 Wiehle Ave., Reston. Contact Jodi Imel at jodibob@erols.com or 703-758-1822 or Judy Erickson at aljudyerickson@comcast.net or 703-437-3957.

· Noon-1 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 10: Ravensworth Baptist Church Alternative Gift Market, Ravensworth Baptist Church, 5100 Ravensworth Rd., Annandale. Contact Geneva Pope at dgpope7603@verizon.net or 703-569-4751.

· 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 9, 9:30-10 a.m. and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 10: Annandale Alternative Gift Market, John Calvin Presbyterian Church, 6531 Columbia Pike, Annandale. Contact Jay Sloan at jjsloan@aol.com or 703-623-9254.

· 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-noon Sundays, through Dec. 31: Alternative Giving Table (catalogue only), Trinity Presbyterian Church, 651 Dranesville Rd., Herndon. Contact Esther B. Johnson at estherj50@aol.com.

Washington

· 6-9 p.m. Tuesday: D.C. Happy Hour Alternative Gift Fair, Front Page, Dupont Circle (south exit on Red line), 1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Contact Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist at sarahtdubb@gmail.com.

· 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 10: Alternative Gifts at Christmas Market, National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW. Contact Meri Giordan at mgiordan@natpresch.org or 202-537-0800. Gifts also may be purchased at http://www.natpresch.org/2006-alternative_gifts.php through Dec. 21.

Maryland

· Noon-4 p.m. Saturday: Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair, Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, 310 Tulip Ave., Takoma Park. Contact Gina Duffin at aggw_inc@yahoo.com.

· 2-5 p.m. Sunday: Brookmont Alternative Gift Fair, Brookmont Church, MacArthur and Maryland avenues, Bethesda. Contact Sandy Robinson at granitesong@aol.com.

· 9:30-10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17: Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church Alternative Gift Market, Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, 3215 Powder Mill Rd., Adelphi, during social hour each day. Contact Rene McDonald at rm.opal@verizon.net.

· 10-11:15 a.m. and noon-1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17: Bethesda Alternative Gifts Market-catalogue only, River Road Unitarian Church, 6301 River Rd., Bethesda. Contact Jacqui Gallagher, 202-333-7957.

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