Monroe gift festival is all about giving

MONROE — Thanks to Gretchen Wilson, Christmas shoppers can avoid the crush of departments stores and instead change the world.

Wilson has organized a gift festival where $120 can send a milk goat to a struggling family in a Third World country, providing up to several quarts of milk a day, milk that can be used to make cheese, butter or yogurt for a family to eat or sell. Buying a $15 black coin purse with embroidered pink flowers hand-crafted by Miao tribeswomen in China can help support a family.

It’s called the Festival of Gifts. And it’s set to happen from noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at Morning Star Lutheran Church, 338 S. Lewis St., Monroe.

“An alternative gift fair gives people the opportunity to purchase a gift that has more meaning or significance than just another tie or knickknack,” Wilson said.

The festival begins with holiday music and drama from noon to 5 p.m. Kids from the church will play flute solos and piano, sing, lip sync or act in a Family Feud-style game featuring Santa Claus and Jesus, said Jay Morgan, ministry director.

A live Nativity is set to appear on the church’s front lawn from 4 to 7 p.m. and a carol sing-along is set to sound off from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Shoppers can also enjoy soup, pie, coffee and hot chocolate while they browse for gifts and enjoy the fun.

Wilson started planning the festival in May. The event highlight is the roughly 15 local and international charities Wilson has invited to show their wares.

Among them are Heifer International, World Vision, Shenaini China Ethnic Crafts, Housing Hope, Muttshack and the Brown Bag Brigade, she said.

Some vendors plan to have items for purchase at the fair. Shenaini China, which offers hand-made textile gifts made by the Miao and Tujia people, plans to offer hand-made purses, Bible covers, totes and other items. The items are made by a woman’s co-op in Sichuan Province.

Others, such as Muttshack, a Monroe pet rescue organization, plan to offer honor gifts. Those are donations a person makes to the charity on behalf of a loved one, Wilson said.

At the fair, David Friedman, who started the Monroe Muttshack chapter two years ago, plans to sell leashes, dog bowls and collapsible crates. Funds from those sales will go toward the purchase of shelter start-up kits and to help fund rescue missions for animals in Snohomish County, Friedman said.

Some of items can be embellished with a special message, then given back to Muttshack. The donation can be made in the name of a loved one who would receive a certificate letting them know a donation has been made on their behalf.

“A lot of people are realizing that this is a wonderful option,” said LeaMcCloud, president of Alternative Gifts International, an organization based in Wichita, Kan., that has helped groups, mostly churches, organize alternative gift markets around the country since 1986.

The first alternative gift market was started by Harriet Pritchard at Pasadena Presbyterian Church in California in 1980. Heifer International was one of the first organizations that participated, McCloud said.

Today, Alternative Gifts International helps sponsor more than 225 markets annually in the United States. Those markets attract hundreds of thousands of shoppers each year, and in 2006, helped raise roughly $1 million for charities, she said.

Wilson had long dreamed of bringing an alternative gift market to her community, she said.

As a long-time volunteer with Heifer International, Wilson had helped at alternative gift fairs in Seattle and on the Eastside.

“I have lived in the Skykomish Valley for 23 years. I have never known of an alternative gift fair in the Valley,” she said.

After keenly watching a similar fair a friend of hers started in Snohomish three years ago, Wilson knew it was time to spring the idea on her church council, she said.

“It was completely new to them, but God bless them, they are a very adventurous set of folks,” she said of her church council. “We have only gone to this church for two years, so they trusted me a lot.”

Reporter Leita Hermanson Crossfield: or 425-339-3449.


Experience alternative Christmas shopping and festivities. Festival of Gifts, noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 13, Morning Star Lutheran Church, 338 S. Lewis St., Monroe. 360-794-2111.

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