Holiday craft fairs abound at this time of year, but one in Arlington diverges from the rest. At the Gifts That Give Hope Alternative fair, the vendors are organizations that serve the area’s less fortunate, and instead of products, they will be selling gifts in kind.
Gifts That Give Hope is a national nonprofit organization started in 2007. Its Arlington chapter will hold its fourth annual holiday fair Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church, 2315 S. Grant St.
In lieu of a sweater, tea cozy or gadget of questionable reception for a parent or spouse, shoppers can buy for $30 a journal and blanket for a teen battling cancer via the Mason Leach Superstar Fund . Fifty dollars will buy a field trip transportation for 10 children through the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, an organization that provides food and activities for kids in transitional and emergency shelters in the District.
Each alternative gift comes with a holiday card, including an insert explaining the gift-in-kind and the chosen organization’s mission.
Tara Bibb started the county fair with fellow Arlington moms Katie Shrader and Cindy Lips. Bibb’s mother, Jeannie Kruidenier, started the first Gifts That Give Hope fair in Pennsylvania in 2007.
“It’s been a longtime tradition in my family that these are the types of gifts that we give in lieu of traditional gifts,” Bibb said. The national group has raised $320,000 in charitable donations since its inception seven years ago.
This year, the Arlington fair will feature 15 nonprofit organizations, from mainstay Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which brings adoptable dogs to the fair, to first-time participant American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders , a group that advocates for people who have disorders with their white blood cells.
Though the fair features local nonprofit groups, some of the causes address the needs of those farther afield. Reach Out to Haiti, for example, provides humanitarian aid to Haitians, and Co-partners of Campesinas aids women in rural areas of El Salvador and Guatemala.
A kids’ fair at the event gives children the chance to buy their own alternative gifts. Santa will make an appearance to help children design gift cards to send to their loved ones. A list of alternative gifts worth $5 each — including treats for shelter animals, or Play-Doh and markers for kids who will spend Christmas in the hospital — allows kids to shop, as well.
“I tell parents to tell kids to go get their piggy banks and scrounge up $5; that’s all they need,” Bibb said. “Tell them to think about Grandma, their teacher, their bus driver, whoever they would want to do something nice for the holiday and rather than buying them Starbucks cards, or a candle, or some scented lotion, use their $5 and let them decide which local kids in need they want to help.
“And they can present that loved one with a card that describes the donation they made,” she added. “We’ve seen it really change the focus of the holiday from, ‘What am I gonna get for presents,’ or what they’ll pick from the catalogue they get in the mail, to letting them decide, ‘How will you spend your $5 for kids who really need it.’ ”
Single adults in their 20s and 30s have also been enthusiastic attendees in the past, Bibb said, such as buying alternative gift items as hostess gifts. The themes of buying locally and moving away from materialistic gifts hold widespread appeal, she said.
And for some area families, the fair has become a way to reinforce values about charitable giving during the holiday season.
“We find people are really making this a tradition in their own families,” Bibb said. “It’s exciting to see families come back year after year, saying ‘This is a really big part of our holiday tradition.’ This keeps the focus on what holidays are really about.”
Lanyi is a freelance writer.