The following is an article by Gioia Ingram that we submitted to the Ten Thousand Villages On-Line Newsletter in Summer, 2015:
The International Gift Faire, San Jose, California – Completing the Circle Opportunity
Chris Oliver (Alliance and Festival Sales Manager at Ten Thousand Villages) asked me to write a bit about the International Gift Faire. We are entering our 27th year putting on a two day event in October. We get about 10 to 12 pallets of Ten Thousand Villages product and spend 5 days setting it up to sell over a 2 day period. After the sale is over we spend 2-3 hours packing up and ship everything back the Monday after the faire. Our gross sales were over $85,000.00 in 2014. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in 2013 with an amazing banner year in sales…over $100,000.00! By the end of everything each year about 100 volunteers have participated.
To organize the faire, we have a steering committee of 12 people who meet monthly starting in May. Each person has an assigned job that they work on during the month and report in at the meetings. The steering committee is from all over our area and we do not all attend the same church. We come together specifically to work on the gift faire. Having a diverse group makes for fresh ideas and energetic workers. We are there by choice for a mission to advance fair trade in the Silicon Valley of California. When we first started the faire, 27 years ago, no one knew what fair trade meant. To be part of the fair trade movement has been personally fulfilling. Sharing how this method of commerce benefits everyone in the world gives deep purpose to our effort.
We have a lot of fun setting up for the faire. It feels like Christmas unwrapping all those beautiful items! Once everything is unwrapped, we display them using the layout that our hardworking, creative Display Coordinator has made for us.
We have the luxury of long standing support from our location at Lincoln Glen Church in San Jose, California. They allow us exclusive use of the gym for one week every year free of charge. They also have been the base of our volunteer force. Over the years other churches have participated. El Camino Bible Church was fundamental in supporting us, and even though the church has closed, many of the members continue to volunteer. Now we rely on a broader group in the community at large for our volunteers. We organize the volunteer shifts through Signup Genius.com. It’s a website where people can sign up on their own and choose their shift or, if the volunteer prefers, we can do it for them. We found using Signup Genius.com helped keep everything clear and accessible to the committee of people who log in and check sign up status. Also, this year we hope to recruit new volunteers through a volunteer group called OneBrick.org that organizes over the internet. We will let you know how that goes. Another exciting volunteer source is a college professor. She suggests the gift faire as a possible mandatory volunteer activity for her students. We get about 15 students from that class every year. Many of them come back the following year just because they believe in fair trade. The core of our volunteers are mainly sourced from a list that we have maintained over the years. We also recruit from shoppers every year adding 5 – 10 people each year. Adding to the list is vital because many of our volunteers are “aging out”. As you know, it takes a lot of physical labor to put on a festival sale!
Figure 2 Every year our display coordinator looks for new fresh ideas. Last year, we found lots of old bookshelves around and converted them to display our TTV products. We only received one of the fire place screens, but could have sold 4. This display was very effective!
One of the best features of the International Gift Faire is the food! Not only do we sell fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate and snacks from Equal Exchange, Serrv and Level Ground. The Lincoln Glen Church Women’s Ministries Group makes delicious food to sell to our shoppers and volunteers. They make yummy soup and cookies, but the highlight for everyone are the Portselkje (New Year’s Fritters). People come back every year just for those. Such fun! They raised well over $2,000 profit last year. That’s a lot of frying! Having food right there in the gym helps keep people shopping and feeds the volunteers.
Figure 3 Everyone loves a fritter!
Publicity is vital to the faire’s success. About three people on the steering committee work mainly on publicity. We pay for a traditional print advertisement in the local major newspaper. And we try to list on all the local neighborhood newspapers’ calendars and the local family magazine calendars. Over the years we have established relationships with local people in the print advertising community and that helps smooth the way. We also have a website www.internationalgiftfaire.com if you are interested. We have one person who helps with social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. We send packets to the local churches who have expressed interest in the faire. We work with the city to hang banners on the local light poles. And we have a group of three dedicated men who place our sandwich signs throughout the neighborhood the week of the faire. However, our most successful advertising is reminder postcards. We send them to the previous year’s shoppers and to our volunteers. People tell me they look for the bright yellow card in the mail every September. They are well worth the cost of postage.
This year we are doing something completely new by advertising at our local farmer’s markets a couple of weeks before the faire. We plan to set up an advertising table at one market that has a street dedicated to charitable organizations. At another local farmer’s market we will wear our Ten Thousand Villages aprons and greet people, share the message of fair trade and pass out our yellow flyers. We will let you know how this adventure goes.
Another key to our success is the date of the faire. We are always the third weekend in October. People know when the faire will occur from year to year so that they can plan their vacations accordingly. It doesn’t always work out, but at least they have the information. Also, being early in the holiday boutique season catches the enthusiastic holiday shoppers. People can count on the International Gift Faire to provide meaningful, beautiful, and unique gifts.
What compels us to work so hard for so many months to put on this two day faire? We feel as though we make a direct difference in the lives of people like us who live in other countries and just need us to market their beautiful goods. When we feel discouraged looking for volunteers or we are exhausted from working our full time jobs and then coming to set up the faire, we think about the big picture…Without the festival sales and stores there would be no market for the goods. We complete the circle of opportunity. What a privilege and honor it is to be part of the fair trade community!
The International Gift Faire Celebrates 25 Years!
2014 was a banner year as we celebrated 25 Years of Fair Trade in San Jose
We gathered the evening before the faire to train the new volunteers and to celebrate 25 years working together on the faire. Volunteers past and present joined us. The faire founders, Marcella Claassen and Evelyn Heinrichs, came and kindly participated. Frances Schroeder, who was the faire chair for almost two decades, also kindly gave of her time to celebrate with us. Norma Voth, a long time committee member who was responsible for promoting the faire for many years came too. I was especially touched that Mary Gottschalk joined us. She is the local newspaper reporter who tirelessly reported about the faire every year. Shannon Hackman, our Ten Thousand Villages representative, spoke about current fair trade issues. Gioia Ingram talked about our past and future vision for the faire. We recognized both Linda Weins and Jane Uhl who are retiring from the committee this year. After that we trained the new volunteers and committee member, Maureen Sheehan, gave a presentation on some of our featured artisans. Once the program was over we ate cake and shopped!
Here are The Chairs, past and present, cutting the cake. Committee member, Anna Scicinska organized the food for our celebration.
Gioia Ingram, Evelyn Heinrichs, Marcella Claassen, Frances Schroeder: Evelyn and Marcella are IGF Founders, Frances was Chair for 18 years, Gioia is current Chair
We also recognized two long time committee members who retired this year…They will be missed!!! Linda Wiens was our beloved Volunteer Coordinator for many years. I am happy to say that she will join us as a volunteer at the faire in the coming years. Jane Uhl also retired from the Committee. She served as a volunteer for many years before becoming Display Coordinator. Fortunately for us she will continue to volunteer at the faire. Sadly, we did not have our camera ready when I gave Jane her orchid.
Ray Heinrichs faithfully takes wonderful photos of the faire each year. Here is an overview of the 25th Annual International Gift Faire 2014!