A Christmas alternative

Posted: November 25th, 2016 | Featured, Features | No Comments

By Joyell Nevins

The holiday season is upon us. A time for materialism and superfluous shopping, a time for packages overflowing and debilitating cases of the “gimme’s”… but what if there was an alternative? Many churches in the area are offering ways to give and groups to support without partaking in the mall mania.

Alternative fairs

La Mesa United Methodist Church is one of the churches hosting an “Alternative Christmas Market,” helping several local nonprofits and international organizations.

“Rather than buying a gift card for a restaurant, you can do something that has a long-lasting impact,” Ann Buffington said of the market. Buffington is one of several volunteers that are helping to coordinate the festive event.

In addition to being able to purchase charitable gifts, traditional trinkets like jewelry will be on sale at the Alternative Christmas Fair. (Courtesy of La Mesa First United Methodist Church)

In addition to being able to purchase charitable gifts, traditional trinkets like jewelry will be on sale at the Alternative Christmas Fair. (Courtesy of La Mesa First United Methodist Church)

The market will feature several booths with agencies ranging from Mama’s Kitchen, which delivers three meals a day at no charge to local men, women and children living with AIDS or cancer (they’ve delivered 8 million meals since their formation in 1990), to the Heifer Project, which provides livestock to families for food and sustainable income. You can buy “gifts” to support the projects in honor of yourself or others.

“We’re supporting nonprofits that do the grunt work,” Buffington said.

The market also supports the church’s own ministries like their part in the local Interfaith Shelter Network, where they open up the building to the homeless and offer food, showers and clothing, or the international Guatemala Project.

The church sends a regular group to Guatemala to help build stoves in people’s homes for heating and cooking purposes. They bring back items the women have woven to sell at the market. That money goes back to the people of Guatemala.

The Alternative Christmas Market is from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4 in the church’s social hall. La Mesa United Methodist Church is located at 4690 Palm Ave.

First United Methodist Church of San Diego at 2111 Camino Del Rio South hosts an “Alternative Christmas Gift Fair” as well. Theirs is open during Sunday services on Sunday Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 – 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon.

First United Methodist also supports both local and international ministries. They have gift options from one dollar, which could buy a notebook for a San Diego inmate through the Kairos Prison Ministries, to $150, which would provide a well and safe water for a family in southeast Asia through Americans Helping Asian Children.

The gift fair also funds ministries that work with Haitian refugees, local elementary children, ex-offenders, AIDS patients, and women escaping violent relationships. It contributes to the salaries of Methodist missionaries in Tanzania, Palestine, Cambodia, and the Tijuana borderlands. Overall, the fair offers options for 10 local groups and seven different international ministries.

If you can’t make it on a Sunday morning, visit online. The church will offer an online store for the alternative fair that opens Nov. 28 at

The Giving Tree

If you still want the shopping hustle and bustle experience while giving back, you can purchase a child’s gift for The Giving Tree at Mission Trails Church.

The church will be collecting Christmas gifts for families in need at Foster Elementary School at Allied Gardens, which lists more than 50 percent of its student population as “socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

The tree will also support families at the special education school Springall Academy in San Carlos. The academy states it serves K-12 students facing an array of challenges, including learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders and autism, and specializes in serving those with multiple disabilities.

“The families are terrific – they just face some challenges larger than the average family with school-aged kids,” Pastor Kyle Walters said. “So since 2010, we’ve made it a commitment to do what we can to help the faculty, students and families flourish.”

The church event hopes to get gifts such as clothes for elementary school kids, as well as sports toys such as jump ropes, Frisbees, soccer balls, basketballs and footballs. Gifts can be dropped off on Sundays Dec. 4 and 11, and will be delivered to families on Thursday, Dec. 18. The church is located at 4880 Zion Ave. For more information, call 619-582-2033.

—Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at

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