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Alternative giving: because it's 'fair and just'

Cindy Cosper works in one of the Alternative Giving Market booths at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Fla.
Cindy Cosper works in one of the Alternative Giving Market booths at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Fla.

"Would you give Jesus a tie or give in his name?"

That's a question Cindy Cosper asks, and for her the answer is clear — no tie.

It's also the kind of question underscoring why her church, John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., has offered an alternative Christmas market for nearly three decades.

"A small group of laity started this ... to put Christ back in Christmas and offer the type of presents he would choose," said Cosper, co-director of the market. "We are the boomers who wanted to make Christmas giving more Christ-like and less commercial."

For Cosper's church and others across the denomination, alternative giving is the fair and just way to shop at Christmas — whether through markets that sell products or fairs that enable givers to donate to organizations in someone else's name.

The Tallahassee church market is predominantly the latter. Shoppers "buy gifts" for family and friends from 32 nonprofits.

Stationed in booths throughout the fellowship hall, each group offers a price list of items ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred — a hammer from Habitat for Humanity, flu vaccines from Neighborhood Health Services, a tree planted to sequester carbon from the Community Carbon Fund of Sustainable Tallahassee.

In return, shoppers receive Christmas cards to give to the people they've honored. They can also buy crafts and other products from fair trade, self-help groups.

"In our 27 years, we have redirected $900,000-plus to alternative giving," Cosper said. "In the last few years, we have taken in $40,000."

More than 75 volunteers run the fair for an estimated 400 shoppers. The church itself averages about 125 in worship each Sunday.

"Our small church cannot give to all the wonderful, helpful groups in our community and our world, but we can offer the opportunity to our members and community to be more caring," Cosper said.

'The right way to do business'

Manchester United Methodist Church in Manchester, Mo., has allowed its community to be more caring through a fair trade market held each year since 2003.

It is "a way to reach out to the community and invite people to our church, as well as educating people about fair trade and why our buying decisions are important," said Kimi Butler, co-chair of the market.

This year's market, themed "Fair Trade — The Purchase Felt Around the World," features seven vendors selling a variety of products, from home décor items, clothing, books and jewelry to soup mixes, olive oil, chocolate and coffee.

"All (are) made by artisans earning a living wage for their work," Butler said.

The market's main vendor is a local fair trade store in St Louis, that provides the bulk of the merchandise. Heifer International (Advance #982418) provides fair-trade Christmas ornaments donors can give to recipients of their alternative gift.

The vendors keep all the proceeds but donate 10 percent to the market committee so it can coordinate the next fair and other social justice events.

Butler says sales have grown from about $10,000 to more than $130,000, and this year's market will draw between 3,000 and 5,000 shoppers.

"Approximately $4,000 of retail sales provides a living wage to an artisan family of four for a year through work, not charity," Butler said. "The artisan is able to support his (or) her family in dignity ... and the community is supported."

For organizers, that's one of the fair's most important messages.

"The principles of fair trade prohibit exploitation of people, including women and children and the environment," Butler said. "It is just the right way to do business."

One big family

For Kris Lovekin and her community, inclusivity is also a top priority.

"We enlarged the circle to include more faiths, because the season of gifts is a universal experience," she said.

What used to be the alternative Christmas fair is now the alternative gift market. Although it's held at First United Methodist Church in Riverside, Calif., it's a community-interfaith collaboration among 12 groups.

A city employee started the fair in 1981 at First Christian Church. The four-hour fair moved to the United Methodist church about three years ago because it has more space. The community is invited, and each year about 200 people attend.

"We want to offer a place for holiday shopping that will also help the world, an alternative to the mall," said Lovekin, co-organizer of the fair.

In addition to the eco-friendly handmade gifts for sale, there's live music on the stage and a simple lunch of soup and bread. Activities for children are also provided.

Each group offers something different. Lovekin's church manages the Heifer International booth.

Another church offers fair trade coffee, second-hand items and plants, while a synagogue offers crafts and jewelry. The Quakers have a book booth. The local Hindu Society helps with music and entertainment.

"Alternative giving is a way for people of good conscience to choose holiday gifts for their friends and loved ones that will protect God's creation and offer a fair and respectful living to people who are struggling," Lovekin said. "It is fair and just. And it is the gift that keeps on giving."

Tita Parham

Learn more about the alternative gift markets

John Wesley United Methodist Church, 1689 Old St. Augustine Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32301,850-877-1738, [email protected],

Alternative Gift Market shoppers fill the Fellowship Hall at First United Methodist Church in Riverside, Calif.
Alternative Gift Market shoppers fill the Fellowship Hall at First United Methodist Church in Riverside, Calif.

Manchester United Methodist Church, 129 Woods Mill Rd., Manchester, MO 63011, 636-394-7506, [email protected],

First United Methodist Church, 4845 Brockton Ave., Riverside, CA 92506, 951-683-7831,

Advice for Market Organizers

  • Offer low-priced items so the whole family can participate.

  • Have children of the church design the gift cards given to recipients of alternative gifts.

  • Build a base of committed, passionate individuals to organize and run the ministry.

  • Join forces with other churches, tapping into many networks.

  • Make it an event with music, food and children's activities.

  • Publicize through the local newspaper, television and radio stations and social media.

  • Focus on what is important: remember to show patience and love for each other and make room for grace.

  • Have fun.

Offering gifts that give twice

If your congregation is planning an alternative-gifts market, consider including products benefiting United Methodist ministries and contact Advance projects about selling fair-trade items. Many are also available for individual purchase. In addition to those listed below, check out the alternative giving catalog developed by the General Board of Global Ministries,

Also, have a place where people may donate to any of the projects and missionaries who can be supported through The Advance.

Calendar (, African American Methodist Heritage Center (Advance #3020514), Madison, N.J.

Coffee, Chocolate, Tea (, Equal Exchange benefitting UMCOR.

Cottage Industry Products (, Cookson Hills Center (Advance #582161), Cookson, Okla.,

Craft Store (, Red Bird Mission (Advance #773726), Beverly, Ky.

Global Barnyard Plush Animals (, Heifer International (Advance #982532), Little Rock, Ark.

Green Tomato Products (, Upper Sand Mountain Parish (Advance #722760), Sylvania, Ala.

Log House Craft Shop (, Henderson Settlement (Advance #773365), Frakes, Ky.

McCurdy Ministries Gift Shop (, McCurdy Ministries (Advance #581479), Espanola, N.M.

Imagine No Malaria Pajamas (, Imagine No Malaria.

Puzzle (, Heart and Hand House (Advance #391361), Philippi, W.Va.

T-shirts, tote bags (, Souper Bowl of Caring (Advance #3020615), Columbia, S.C

Zahn Olivewood Nativity Sets ( benefiting Bethlehem Bible College (Advance #12017A).

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