Faire offers unique gift items to help poor

The International Gift Faire provides unique gifts crafted by

Last summer, my wife and I were visiting family in Southern
California. While strolling along the upscale shopping area of
South Lake Street in Pasadena, we spotted a small store with an
unusual name, Ten Thousand Villages.
Last summer, my wife and I were visiting family in Southern California. While strolling along the upscale shopping area of South Lake Street in Pasadena, we spotted a small store with an unusual name, Ten Thousand Villages. Inside we discovered an amazing assortment of unique, hand-crafted items from some of the most economically-challenged people in the world.

But readers of this column won’t need to travel to Southern California to purchase this intriguing merchandise.

For the 20th consecutive year, the Bay Area Mennonite churches are sponsoring their International Gift Faire, an opportunity for local residents to make an impact on world poverty while learning more about folk arts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

It will be held Oct. 17 (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and Oct. 18 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at Lincoln Glen Church Fellowship Hall, 2700 Booksin Ave., San Jose. Admission is free, and many residents of South County have found the trip to shop there well worth their time and trouble.

This event features hundreds of unusual gifts and home decor items in bamboo, wood, natural fibers and ceramics; things like baskets, ornaments, musical instruments, toys, rugs and brassware from 30 developing countries like Bangladesh, El Salvador, Thailand and the Philippines.

Of course, there are many gift fairs at this time of year; what makes this one different is the direct contact and long-term relationships with actual craftspeople who need work.

These handicrafts are imported by Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit marketing and job creation program established in 1946 by the Mennonite Central Committee.

Its mission is to create economic opportunities that help people in developing countries earn a decent and fair living, enabling them to afford improved health care, nutrition, housing and education.

All proceeds from the Gift Faire are donated to Ten Thousand Villages, which allows the future purchase of more crafts from an increasing number of poor people It is the oldest and largest fair trade organization in the country with 60 years of experience and an annual trade volume in excess of $25 million.

The San Jose exhibition was started 20 years ago by two local Mennonite women who felt the need to help disadvantaged women in Third World countries find a market for their handicrafts. It has grown to be the largest such fair in the United States, with more than 150 volunteers. Sales last year totaled nearly $90,000 in merchandise.

The Mennonites trace their origin to Anabaptism, a Reformation movement begun in Switzerland in the 16th century.

The Anabaptists were persecuted by both Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups because of their distinctive beliefs, such as only adults could be baptized. They refused to take oaths of allegiance to governments, accepted only the Bible as authority and refused to serve in the military.

Among the religious groups today that are descended from the Anabaptists are the Huttites, Amish and Mennonites (the largest group, named for a Dutch Catholic priest Menno Simons who converted to the Anabaptist faith and helped lead it to prominence). Today there are about a half million members of these groups in the U.S. and about a million worldwide.

A notable part of their faith relates to serving others. This is especially apparent in the functioning of the Mennonite Disaster Service.

Mennonites have always helped each other. The famous barn-raising scene in the Harrison Ford movie “Witness” (although featuring Amish) is a good example, symbolizing “the love of Christ and the advantages of mutual community helpfulness.”

But in the in 1950’s, the Mennonites began to further organize and expand this mutual aid beyond their own membership. As a people of peace opposed to military participation, the Mennonites find disaster relief another opportunity to serve the nation as a whole.

Each year more than 3,000 volunteers participate in post-disaster cleanup and repairs at no charge to victims. At the present time they are working on projects in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Kansas.

For more information call 264-1662 or go to www.internationalgiftfaire.com

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