Alternative Christmas Gift Market is Nov. 9 at The Cedars

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Press released shared by Susan Taylor

Homelessness in McPherson?  “It’s invisible here,” says Jean Ballew, Program Director and Case Manager for the McPherson Housing Coalition.

Yet in McPherson County many families live doubled up, risking eviction.  Also, “couch surfing” is common.  Children sleep on couches going from friend’s house to friend’s house while parents sleep in their car, according to Ballew.

The Coalition is one of 18 organizations to be featured at the 15th annual Alternative Christmas Gift Market Saturday, Nov. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Cedars Conference Center.

The Market provides an opportunity to learn about local organizations that work to meet basic human needs, such as housing, and make a donation as an alternative to the traditional Christmas gift.

In addition, items from Connected, a Lindsborg fair trade store, will be available to purchase.  Lucy Bowman, a local 7th grader, will again be selling her crafts to raise money for the Malala Fund.

The McPherson Housing Coalition is new to the Market this year, and money raised will help them provide rent and utility assistance to families with children, usually for one to two months as they work toward financial independence.

MHC works closely with local agencies, such as STEP MC, the Omega House, and Mt. Hope Sanctuary, which also have booths at the market, and other agencies. 

For the past five years, the MHC has received the Emergency Solutions Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  MHC must match the grant, which is $94,000 this year. 

Over 80 people receive help from MHC in a year.  McPherson is one of only a few Kansas counties getting the HUD grant, which strives for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing.

“Providing housing for families with children is so important,” Ballew said.  “Research shows that many children with adverse childhood experiences have lifelong health problems.”

The coalition came about approximately 10 years ago when Chris Goodson, a local appraiser, saw the need for more housing in McPherson County.  She helped found the organization and serves as its director.

Another project of MHC is Brush Up Mac, an annual spring event.  This year over 500 volunteers worked to repair and clean up houses. 

The Alternative Christmas Gift Market provides an alternative to frenzied gift shopping, giving and receiving in a highly commercialized holiday season. 

“While the purpose of the market is to raise money for charities, an equally important part of the market is education,” according to Tandy Wine, one of the market’s founders.  “Every booth has literature describing the charity, its mission and how people are served.  So when you learn about these charities, you learn how the charity might help someone you know, or how you might be involved in supporting the charity.”

At the market donors choose which charities to support.  “It’s easy because you only need to write one check or make one credit card payment, and the money is divided as you designate,” said Nancy Magnall, one of the cashiers.

The Market, sponsored by the McPherson Church of the Brethren, has raised over $300,000 for charities since 2005.  Admission is free and open to everyone.

“It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit. I’m always uplifted to see the attractive displays and learn about the good work being done—whether it’s the middle schooler raising money for the Malala Fund or the retiree building Habitat houses in our community,” said Janelle Flory Schrock, one of the committee members. “All of the projects are so worthwhile. It renews my faith in people when sometimes the world seems so bleak and materialistic.” 

Other participating organizations not mentioned above include Church World Service, Growing Hope Globally, Haiti Medical Project, Heifer International, McPherson Area Habitat for Humanity, McPherson County Food Bank, Mobility Worldwide Kansas, New Community Project, Offender Victim Ministries, Set Free, Ulster Project of McPherson County and The Wink Foundation.