My Story: Tips and Tricks for Hosting an Alternative Gift Fair

by Jenn Knepper   |   September 3, 2014

Agfblog 2014

One evening at work, I happened to pick up a copy of the local newspaper and saw an article entitled, “Your Grandmother Doesn’t Need Another Sweater and Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie.” My sentiments exactly. I continued reading, and learned about a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based women’s giving circle that was putting together an alternative gift fair as one of their holiday projects.

I had found myself growing disgruntled with the holiday season. It had started to seem like a blanket of consumerism and unrealistic expectations about what constitutes a meaningful experience. 

I contacted the women’s giving circle in Harrisburg, told them how much I loved the idea, and that I wanted to replicate it in Lancaster. After meeting with the women, I came home with so many thoughts and ideas coursing through my brain. I proceeded to contact everyone I knew who would have a remote interest in helping me organize the first alternative gift fair in Lancaster. 

I ended up working with Gifts that Give Hope, an umbrella organization that provides resources and tools for those who want to host their own alternative gift fair. The Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair debuted in November 2008, and has been going strong on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving ever since.

"We want to be clear that it’s not our intention to be scrooges who say 'bah humbug' to all gifts."

The response to our fair has been wonderful, and it demonstrates that people are looking for opportunities to give in a more meaningful way. We want to be clear that it’s not our intention to be scrooges who say “bah humbug” to all gifts. Our goal is simply to help people put more thought into the gifts that they give to their loved ones, and to recognize that buying more stuff doesn’t signify more love. 

We want people to think about their loved ones, and ask themselves, “What is it that Aunt Barb or Teacher Jane really cares about?” For example, my parents repeatedly say that they don’t want “more stuff.” In turn, I started thinking about how very fortunate I am to have been afforded an education in a country where I am valued as a woman. I have come to understand the heartbreaking reality that this is not the case for many girls and women around the world. My parents gave gift of education to me, so I gave my parents a gift that provides a year of education in their name to a young girl in Africa.

Here is my advice to anyone interested in coordinating an alternative gift fair in their community:

1.   Use New Dream's resources

Check out New Dream’s step-by-step guide as well as their recorded webinar, as well as the resources available at Gifts that Give Hope.

2.   Go fair trade

Consider including fair trade items as an accompaniment to the alternative gifts. At our fair, we feature booths from businesses such as Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil and Singing Rooster Haitian Coffee.

3.   Food, food, food

I am Italian, so food is my love language. Bringing in food vendors makes for a more festive event. We have always featured a wide variety of flavors from around the world, and this year we are actually partnering with a local cultural group that hosts a “Taste the World” walking tour of Lancaster. We’re going to replicate that experience at our fair. You can read more at Taste the World.

4.   Offer free kids’ activities

This year, we have stations where the kids can roll beads, make handmade cards, and write letters of encouragement to active service members, retired veterans, wounded warriors, and sick children. We recommend working with existing organizations that can come in and offer these types of activities—it’s a great way for groups to make connections and build community.

If you have more questions, come check out the Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair.

This blog is part of New Dream's Alternative Gift Fair resource guide. Learn more.

Jenn Knepper is an RN in the medical intensive care unit at the Hershey Medical Center. In addition to founding and running the Lancaster, PA Alternative Gift Fair, Jenn also serves as New Dream’s Volunteer Regional Coordinator for Pennsylvania.