By Jean Clark
This is the 12th year that the Pleasant Hill Community Church, United Church of Christ has sponsored an Alternative Christmas Fair. It will be Saturday, Nov. 17 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Blue Barn behind the old Wharton Nursing Home off of Lake Rd. in Pleasant Hill.
Many churches and organizations hold Christmas Fairs around this time of year to sell handmade crafts. A former pastor of the Community Church, Rev. Bob Peeples and his wife Ruth made SERRV products and crafts available locally since 1989.
SERRV is an ecumenical organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it exists by providing opportunity and support to artisans worldwide. It was started in 1949 by the Church of the Brethren to help refugees in Europe to recover economically and socially from World War II.
The name SERRV was originally an acronym for Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation. SERRV is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization.
In the fall of 1994 an Artisan Fair was developed by Ruth Peeples, partly to acquaint people with SERRV products, but also expanded to include artisans from the Pleasant Hill area. Many craftsmen displayed, demonstrated and sold their artistic work during the Fair, which continued annually until 1999.
UNICEF items and the Heifer Project were included. Heifer was another project started by a Church of the Brethren member, Dan West. Cows were sent abroad, donated by West's neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II.
More than 67 years later, Heifer has expanded its mission and provides 30 types of animals—from goats, geese and guinea pigs to bees, silkworms and water buffalo to help people provide for their families all over the world.
After Rev. Peeples passed away, Ruth encouraged Jean and Don Clark of the Community Church to continue the SERRV mission. They have added Equal Exchange products that are fair traded coffee, chocolate, teas, and cooking oil.
In 2001 they borrowed the idea of an Alternative Christmas Fair from their former church, providing a venue for SERRV, UNICEF, and the Heifer project. That first year they added eight other organizations and held the Fair in the fellowship hall of the Community Church.
The concept was simple: to give a meaningful gift during the holidays that supported worthy organizations.
Donations or memberships to groups such as Battered Women (now Avalon) or the Morgan/Scott Project in the name of a friend or family member would double its value and worth. That first year, $4,587.15 was raised by the 11 participating groups. The following year, double that amount was given and other organizations asked to be included.
The Alternative Fair moved to the Pleasant Hill Community House and grew to 15 groups. In 2007 permission was obtained to hold the Fair in the Blue Barn in Pleasant Hill, where the May Cravath Wharton Association holds their sales.
This allowed expansion space providing for other worthy organizations. Last year 21 non-profit groups raised $17,388.75. The Social Justice Committee of the PH Community Church sponsors this yearly event and although the treasurer handles the donations and makes sure each group receives its contributions, the church receives no funds from the Fair at all.
Participants are also asked to bring non perishable foods to the fair for the Neighbors Together Food Pantry in Pleasant Hill. Part of the value of the Alternative Christmas Fair is the information sharing and networking that occurs as people move from table to table to learn about the important work being done locally and abroad.
As all of the participating groups are non-profit, donations or memberships are tax deductible. Participating groups this year are the Joe Bogle Scholarship Fund, The GRAB Thrift Shop, the Cumberland County Foster/Adoptive Parent Association, the Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands; Cumberland Good Samaritans; Equal Exchange Products; Heifer International; Cumberland County Habitat; the SHALOM Center for Continuing Education; Cub and Boy Scouts of America, Pack & Troop 170; Morgan-Scott Project; Avalon; Cumberland County School Supply Depot; PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Neighbors Together; VORP, SERRV International, The Rural Health Clinic, Creative Compassion, Inc.; and Kids on the Rise.
Returning to the Fair is the Cuba Theological Book Fund (formerly Friends of Matansas Seminary). New is the Baby Bird Learning Center, a Day Care program for the babies of teenagers who attend Phoenix School in Crossville. Cards are provided, embellished by a calligrapher to send to the person(s) in whose name the donation or membership has been given.