Friday, November 25, 2005

This Christmas, save a gorilla

Good article on alternative gift fairs in the DC area. Unlike the DC fairs, Gift It Up! gives people an opportunity to participate in person or online (

This Christmas, save a gorilla

By Patrick Rucker
Examiner Staff Writer

"Give 'til it hurts" may be a mantra of the holiday season, but one local nonprofit has a better idea: Give 'til it feels good.

Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington has a line of life-changing products you won't find at the local mall.

For $50, a girl can be rescued from forced prostitution. It takes just $2 to pay a day's wages to a teacher in Afghanistan. A hat, scarf, gloves and socks for a local homeless person cost $20.

These are among the wares offered for the next several weeks at fairs across the region. What shoppers actually "buy" is a voucher stating that their money was donated in the name of a family member or loved one.

"These things are just unheard-of," said Jodi Imel, who helped organized an alternative gift fair in Reston on Saturday. The same fair raised more than $20,000 for charity last year, Imel said.

It's gift-giving, she said, "but a little more meaningful."

The first alternative gift fair in the region started in Takoma Park about seven years ago. By creating a bazaar-like atmosphere, organizers of the alternative gift fairs aim to create a familiar shopping experience. Now alternative gift fairs can be found at several spots around the capital region during the holiday season.

The typical alternative gift shopper wants for nothing and won't lie down for seasonal consumerism, said J. McCray, who helped organize the area's first such gift fair in Takoma Park in 1999.

"People are looking to give gifts that are interesting and not necessarily another tie or fruitcake," McCray said.

Besides international aid agencies, local groups like Meals on Wheels and the Washington Animal Rescue League take part.

Shoppers are told as much as possible about exactly how their gift will help.

A "save a gorilla" kiosk in Reston this weekend was decorated with photos and information about an anti-poaching program in Rwanda.

"What they get is a beautiful card with a description of the project and what their money was able to do," Imel said.

If you go

-There are seven more alternative gift fairs in the region through December.

-For more information and schedule, see

Finding alternatives online

If you prefer shopping online, a variety of indigenous crafts and fair-trade goods are just a few clicks away.

One World, a clearinghouse for 1,600 international aid agencies, has a new online gift guide. It offers seasonal goods like ornaments, cards and tea-light candles along with gifts of jewelry, books, fair-trade coffee, tea and chocolate. All the products listed are sweatshop-free and made with sustainable materials.

"This lets people spend money in a way that promotes their values," said Andrea Buffa of Global Exchange, a human rights group based in San Francisco.

Goods purchased through the site give twice, Buffa said.

"It's not [just] for the person giving the gift, but the person who produced it, too," she said.

Shoppers can click through a range of charities and products at

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