Six-year-old Scott Barret stared, fascinated, at the bee colony. He wandered around the Fellowship Hall at the First United Methodist Church in Alhambra, looking at the rabbits and chickens on display at the church's Alternative Christmas Market.
But he kept going back to the bee colony, drawn by the swarming mass of insects inside the glass case. Finally, he made his first purchase, two shares of a bee colony, which cost $4. Then, with the help of his grandmother, Beverly Oliver, he purchased two blankets, 10 chickens and two shares of a rabbit, spending a total of $22.
Scott and his grandmother were two of an estimated 8,800 San Gabriel Valley residents who did at least a portion of their Christmas shopping this year at one of a growing number of alternative Christmas markets sponsored by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Pasadena.
Gifts for Friends
Those who shopped at the markets were looking for gifts for friends and relatives, who will find a card under the Christmas tree stating that a cow, a rabbit, bees or some other useful gift will be sent in his or her name to impoverished people in Third World countries.
"People come in and know exactly what they want to spend and spread it out as much as they can," said Jeannette Chapman, who was stationed at a table where heifers were sold. Although no one bought a whole heifer at the Alhambra church that day, shoppers bought enough shares at $15 each so at least one $750 heifer will be sent to a village in a Third World country for Christmas.
"I'm thinking in terms of food," said Chapman, who bought three rabbits that day. "To me that seemed like the quickest way to help the hungry. Rabbits multiply so fast and have a lot of good protein."
A total of 14 markets were held at San Gabriel Valley churches in late November and early December. Although no more markets are scheduled for this year, purchases may still be made by calling Heifer Project International at (213) 693-7757 or Church World Service at (818) 449-2714.
Distributed to 2 Groups
Funds raised through the markets are distributed to the two organizations, which purchase the items designated by the gift-givers. The two groups have missionaries and personnel stationed in various world areas advising them on where animals and other goods are most needed.
The first alternative Christmas market in the San Gabriel Valley was established in 1980 by Harriet Prichard, a Sierra Madre resident, at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
The gift-giving program has since spread to 45 churches scattered around Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties, Prichard said. An additional 60 churches have joined forces in groups of three to six in cooperative efforts to hold markets for their parishioners.
Prichard, who worked at the time as director of the children's ministry at Pasadena Presbyterian, said she wanted to establish "a model for the real meaning of gift-giving and to make giving authentic."
"I knew there were many people in the world who have nothing, and we have everything. So I thought, why not send gifts overseas and buy things that they need," Prichard said.
She looked for help from Casey Howell, director of the Pasadena office of Church World Service, an Indiana-based offshoot of the National Council of Churches of Christ, and Larry Peel, director of the southwestern region of Heifer Project International, an Arkansas-based independent nonprofit organization that has offered self-help training programs and sent farm animals to underdeveloped countries since 1944.
'Caught On Beautifully'
"It's an idea that has caught on beautifully," Peel said. "A lot of people are really getting tired of the commercialization of Christmas. The alternative Christmas market gives people the opportunity to give a gift and know it will not be put up in an attic or not used."
This year, Alhambra's First United Methodist Church, which offered its market for the fourth year, sold 920 chickens, 12 bee colonies, 360 vaccine shots, 360 high-protein biscuits and 270 leucaena trees, raising a total of $4,000.
Last year, Southern California markets, aided by Heifer Project International and Church World Service, supplied poor families in underdeveloped countries with 1,500 blankets, 37,814 leucaena trees (which grow very rapidly with minimal water and provide a source of firewood), 651 pounds of fruit and vegetable seeds, 32,280 chickens, 20,000 bees, 545 rabbits, 79 pigs, 23 heifers and 67 goats.
"We sent a herd of goats to east Honduras," Prichard recalled. "It changed the malnutrition rate in children in one village from 96% to 14% in one year. This was from the rich milk from the goats."
Sells Milk for Profit
Prichard said goats also help provide an income to the impoverished in Ethiopia.
"In 2 1/2 years a farmer in Ethiopia can make five times as much as he makes now with the sale of the milk left over after he feeds his family," Prichard said.