Wesley students market alternative gifts


By Susan Kim

This is a different kind of Christmas list:

• An emergency food pack in Liberia

• Preventive malaria treatments for five pregnant women

• Supplies for flood cleanup in Colorado and Indiana

At Oklahoma City University, students on their way into the cafeteria paused to read through this list at a table marked "Alternative Gift Marketplace." They were Christmas shopping — but the gifts were not the usual items one picks up at the mall.

• Cleaning supplies for community water distribution centers

• Supplies for water sustainability in Haiti

• Gardening tools to start a community garden

A shopper selected a specific cause from the list to support through a money donation, designated the gift funds in honor of friends or family, and made that donation at the Alternative Gift Marketplace. Then aid agencies including UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), through project partnerships around the world, received those funds, purchased the chosen item, and put it to use to assist people in need.

The cost for the gift-giver? Anywhere from $1 to $25.

The person whom the gift honored received a card notifying them of the donation as well as providing information about the cause it supported.

Rodney Newman, director of religious life at OCU, said, "It’s a way to spread the word about the kind of work The United Methodist Church does." 

Prior to Christmas, the Alternative Gift Marketplace was administered by the Wesley Center, the United Methodist ministry on the OCU campus. Students volunteered to supervise shifts, juggling the work with their class schedules.

The center also hosts a Monday evening worship service and a weekly free meal called "Wednesday at the Wesley." Students involved with the center also do periodic mission projects, said Rev. Newman.

Midway through its duration, the Marketplace had raised several hundred dollars for UMCOR. As Newman and the students tracked the project’s popularity, they said they plan a similar effort next Christmas season.

They also offered tips for churches and agencies that want to set up their own Alternative Gift Marketplaces.

1. Offer a variety of price ranges. Newman worked with UMCOR to determine alternative gift items of varying amounts. "It enables people who don’t have much to give," he noted.

2. Arrange to take credit cards and checks. "We get almost no cash," said Newman. He consulted with OCU’s financial experts, who helped design a system in which shoppers could enter their own credit card information.

"It enables them to give in a secure way with a credit card. For the small service charge from the credit card company, we will make that up with designated funds we already have," explained Newman.

UMCOR’s Gifts of Hope catalog is online.

Susan Kim regularly writes for www.umcor.org.

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