On December 10th, Gifts That Give Hope Lancaster will be celebrating its ninth year spreading holiday cheer through alternative giving. Taking place annually at the Farm and Home Center in Lancaster PA, it’s a one-of-a-kind shopping experience where you can find 30 local and global nonprofit organizations making the world a better place. Each nonprofit will make three donation-based gifts available for shoppers and fair-goers will have the chance to peruse fair trade goods in the marketplace and sample delicious eats from various local food vendors.

This year’s event is especially unique due to its shared date with Human Rights Day. Beginning in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating December 10 as Human Rights Day, where every person is encouraged to “step forward and defend the rights of [anyone] at risk of discrimination or violence.” And in honor of this special day, the gift fair will be hosting a youth educational activity to inspire the next generation of human rights activists.

SEE Change spoke with event organizer Jenn Knepper to hear about Gifts That Give Hope, its mission and importance to the community of Lancaster and the world.

What inspired you to launch this alternative gift fair and how long has it been running so far?

The gift fair was first started by a group of women in Harrisburg PA as an extension of their activities as a womens’ giving circle. I am an RN at Hershey Medical Center where we receive the Patriot News paper and I read about the alternative gift fair first taking place in 2007 around the holidays and the article really appealed to me because it asked:

“Does your grandma need another sweater this Christmas, or does your dad need another tie?”

So I contacted the women and told them that I think this concept would do really well in Lancaster and so we held our first event in November of 2008 and we’ve been having consecutive gift fairs ever since-this will be our 9th annual event. GTGH grew to be an umbrella organization that supports the efforts of people and groups in North America to host their own alternative gift fair in their hometowns.

What is your goal with running the gift fair, what are you hoping to accomplish?

The goal with running the fair is truly to provide an alternative to the rampant consumerism that descends on North America from early November through late December. Many people are tired of this notion that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on – if we’re really honest with ourselves –  stuff that will get thrown out, doesn’t fit, or just wasn’t what someone needed/wanted in the first place. The average American spends $800 on the holidays and we wanted to challenge the status quo in a sense to say that you can find meaning-filled gifts for everyone on your shopping list about causes that are important to them.

We hope to accomplish and create an opportunity where people can come and learn about the charitable organizations that are working right here in Lancaster to address issues like literacy, access to healthy food, education, housing, prevention of abuse, living-wages and economic opportunities to escape poverty, and the organizations that work around the world.

Not only can you do your shopping there-but you can also connect with organizations that need volunteer help. Everyone has something to offer; we all have different gifts and skill sets and we can use them in a way to build others up.

Tell me a bit about the social enterprises featured at the fair

This video sums up a lot of our social enterprises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZdnTT8Zv1A. We felt it was important to offer a variety of shopping opportunities – alternative gifts that are given in honor of a loved one that goes towards a specific organization, such as a cow given to Heifer International, books for the Reach out and Read program, support for mothers enrolled in Nurse Family Partnership, bikes for World Bicycle Relief and more. Then there are fair trade gifts such as Bead for Life handmade jewelry, Divine Chocolate, Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil, and more.

The social enterprise is vital because that is directly impacting the community we live in by helping people that would otherwise face barriers to employment gain meaningful job experience, earn wages and, perhaps most importantly, the dignity that comes with earning a living and knowing that you have made something with your hands and the knowledge that you are contributing to the community.

What is your background and how did it bring you here?

I am an RN and I was at work when I read about this idea and it just grew from there. We have an amazing team of volunteers that are over 15 people that plan for this event throughout the year – accountants, designers, media, graphics, marketing and passionate people who want to make their community a better place for all and who embrace this idea that the holidays don’t have to be filled with consumerism and materialism. There is another way. That is what keeps me going. It is amazing to watch the event grow every year.

We have over 1000 people that come to the fair and to see people making connections and getting plugged in and learning about something they can do to prevent child abuse, provide care for orphans/foster care children, provide meals, etc. there is just nothing like that.

What are you most excited about with this upcoming fair?

What I’m probably most excited about is that it’s the first year the fair falls on human rights day (December 10), first recognized in 1948. And we’re working to make this event informative and engaging with learning on how we all have a role to play in realizing human rights; welcoming the refugees when they have been persecuted in their native countries, access for children to have food, shelter, safety, education and more to grow, learn, and thrive. Basic human rights are essential to life and building a vibrant community.

How can people get more information and buy tickets?

Consider visiting us – we’re only 2 hours north of Washington DC and 1.5. hours west of Philadelphia, PA. The fair is free and there is also a variety of food vendors bringing tastes from all over the world! Or consider hosting an alternative gift fair in your hometown.

For more information, check out www.giftsthatgivehope.org/lancaster

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