SANTA FE, N.M. — In a Santa Fe shopping mall storefront Saturday, the Christmas spirit appeared alive and well.
Rather than toys and televisions, shoppers perused items such as prenatal lab tests, textbooks and beehives. Instead of material benefit to a spouse or child, the recipient might be halfway around the world – or in a Santa Fe neighborhood.
The Santa Fe Alternative Gift Market at the DeVargas Center, now in its fourth year, offers people the opportunity to “buy” items that benefit five local nonprofits – Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, the Santa Fe Public Library’s Early Readers Program, the Interfaith Shelter, La Familia Medical Center and New Mexico Veterans Helping Homeless Veterans.
“It’s a bit of consciousness-raising. In addition to the normal items (people) buy, we’re recommending that consumers add to their giving a form of alternative giving which could change a life,” declared James McGrath Morris, market organizer.
People can also make donations to programs in countries such as Kenya, India, Mexico and China courtesy of Alternative Gifts International, the organization that started similar markets on which the Santa Fe event is based.
McGrath Morris said the Santa Fe market has its roots in local churches but “this is a way to bring alternative giving to a larger public secular fashion.”
At the Interfaith Shelter booth, people could chose from a handful of items for the shelter’s homeless clients, including bus passes, sleeping bags and kitchen supplies, or pay for one night’s shelter for a client.
“It gives us a great opportunity to talk to people about what we do at the shelter and what our needs are. It’s also gratifying to be a part of the bigger picture with the Alternative Gift Market,” shelter volunteer Tim Kilkenny said.
A few feet away, Roberto Gallegos manned the booth for New Mexico Veterans Helping Homeless Veterans. The organization raises and disperses funds to a number of nonprofits that help homeless veterans, whether they are just settling into permanent housing or living on the streets.
“That’s why we help so many different programs. There’s such a diverse population of veterans out there that need different kinds of help,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos mused that the need to give something to those in less fortunate circumstances could be “an affirmation of just being a human being.”
“To be able to do something – you aren’t necessarily going to be able to change the reality that we live in, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “If you participate in trying to do something that benefits others, I think it’s a satisfying feeling.”
First-time market visitor Lindsay Dandeo said she was impressed. Dandeo said she’s donated to nonprofits in the past, though not in the exact form offered by the Alternative Gift Market. She said she would probably make a few contributions on behalf of her nieces, aged 11 and 15.
“If I give someone, especially my nieces, just another material item, that’s going to come and go – this is so much more meaningful, and it’s global and it will kind of make this connection, ‘I have this life in America and people around the world don’t have the kind of life that I do,'” Dandeo said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity.”
For McGrath Morris, the setup at the market offers people a more personal form of philanthropy. Giver and recipient can feel a real connection with the donation, as opposed to the vaguer reward offered by just giving money to an organization, he said.
“It’s an innovative way to connect individually. Somebody is going to go home tonight and realize they made it possible for a rocket stove to be bought for a family in Tanzania,” McGrath Morris said. He continued, “That means that next year that woman will spend less time gathering wood, which means she will be more free to do artwork that might be shown at the Santa Fe Folk Art (Market).”
This is the first year the Santa Fe Alternative Gift Market has run through two weekends. By noon on Saturday, total proceeds tallied around $24,000. McGrath Morris said that, by the end of the day, the final take would probably exceed $30,000, matching last year’s total. He estimated that anywhere from 1,200 to 1,700 individual gifts had been sold.
The amount of business done today will determine if the market continues to run on an expanded schedule, McGrath Morris said. The Santa Fe Alternative Gift Market runs today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.