Shopping for Meaning at the Gift Fair

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Tompkins Weekly 12-1-14

By Kathleen Yen

Ithaca College graduate Meaghan Sheehan Rosen launched the first Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair (IAGF) 11 years ago in order to give people the opportunity to shop for gifts of ideas and meaning instead of material goods.

The inspiration to bring this concept to Ithaca began with a gift from Meaghan’s brother Seán. “I was a sophomore in college home for Christmas,” Meaghan recalls. “Seán gave me the gift of having the locks changed for a victim of domestic violence. I remember how touched I was to receive that gift which had a more meaningful, far-reaching impact than any wrapped box I might have opened that day.”

If you would also like to minimize the accumulation of “stuff” and the annual stress of holiday shopping, then mark on your calendar Saturday, Dec. 6, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Head downtown to the IAGF on the 300 block of North Cayuga St. on Dewitt Park at the First Presbyterian and First Baptist churches. If you can’t go to the fair, charitable gift donations can also be purchased online from Dec. 7 to 31 at


The IAGF offers our community an alternative to conventional holiday gift giving. Gifts do not have to be material items meant only for the gift receiver. Gifts can be a celebration of personal charity, community health and well-being and the preservation of the planet.

What’s more, the event provides critical support for over 50 nonprofit charitable organizations in Tompkins County by organizing a venue and an opportunity for shoppers and charities to come together in the spirit of service and giving. Shoppers have the opportunity to walk around the fair, look at displays created by participating nonprofit organizations, talk with agency representatives and decide which types of charitable gift donations fit their values and those of each friend and family member for whom they are donating.

“This event has made the holidays much more fun and fulfilling for me,” says Alicia Freedman, IAGF volunteer and shopper. “Instead of making the sad, almost obligatory trip to big box stores, I am able to do the bulk of my holiday shopping at the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair and then buy a few small things for loved ones on the Commons and from other locally owned businesses. Every year at the fair I am floored by all of the inspired work of the nonprofits in our community, and I find the perfect gift donation for each person I am shopping for pretty quickly.”

There are hundreds of charitable gift donations to choose from at the IAGF. This allows shoppers to honor family and friends with gifts that truly support the receivers’ values. So, for example, instead of a wrapped package of “stuff,” your family member or friend receives a card and “gift” insert that says something like this: “Holiday Greetings! A donation, in your honor, has been made to Organization X to provide medical transportation to a child, adult or military-service person in need” or “A donation, in your honor, has been made to Organization Y to provide emergency food for a family in need.”

Gifts start at $5, and there are hundreds of feel-good charitable gift donations to choose from. While visiting with the various organizations, shoppers complete a shopping list, then go to the check-out table, where they make just one payment and get one receipt. Major credit cards are accepted, but cash or checks are preferred.

This event is organized by local volunteers, and the space is donated by the First Presbyterian and First Baptist churches of Ithaca. Visit to find out more and to view the list of organization

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