JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Hundreds of shoppers crowded into the multi-purpose building of Old Plank Baptist Church in Jacksonville Dec. 7 for the third annual Holiday Hearts Gift and Craft Fair. According to organizers of the event, the purpose of the event is more about welcoming their neighbors to the church than product sales.
“From the time people park their cars in the parking lot, they are actively welcomed. Our church members are not just shoppers—they are ambassadors for Christ and for the church. We want to expose everyone to the hospitality of Christ,” said Melanie Love, a member of the team who planned the fair.
The genesis of the project was when LOOP, ladies of Old Plank Road Baptist Church, brain-stormed about ministry to other ladies in their rural, Westside community. They decided to create an event to showcase the creativity of their neighbors, and to provide extra income for area families.
“We have so many families struggling to make ends meet, especially single moms, and so many of them were ‘crafty,’ Love said.
The first craft fair was held in the church fellowship hall, and 35 vendors displayed their wares for shoppers. The next December craft fair had a new name, “Holiday Hearts Gift and Craft Fair,” and a new location, the church’s multi-purpose building. The fair expanded to include 60 vendors, all from Jacksonville’s Westside community.
Along the way, the LOOP team that heads up the undertaking learned to make sure that the vendors offered a variety of products since the first year had “an overabundance of jewelry,” Love said.
The wares Dec. 7 included potted plants, origami, home fragrances, handmade candles and soaps, chocolate-covered pretzels, cookies, aprons, novelties and hats.
A single mom with two daughters in tow sold hair bows and baby items in a spot next to an older lady selling jams and jellies made from local produce.
The team also developed a website to market the event that includes a photo gallery of vendors’ products and a map of vendors’ locations at the church. LOOP members blanketed the community with free announcements and fliers about the fair. The site http://www.holidayhearts2013.com/ is available October-February.
“We live in a technological age, and we tweak our website every year to keep it fresh. For this project, technology is our best friend,” Love said.
From the beginning, LOOP members focused on vendors at the craft fair. Volunteers meet them in the parking lot with golf carts to carry in their wares, and other volunteers are available to pinch-hit at a booth to give vendors bathroom breaks. Each vendor receives a $3 voucher for food at the concession stand.
“Many of the vendors are caught off guard by having people there just to meet their needs. Our goal is to love them and make them feel at home,” Love said. “Our vendors always rave about the church’s friendliness and courtesy.”
Penny, a member of Old Plank Baptist, was a new vendor this year. She is the mother of Jeannie, a mentally handicapped adult, whose care “consumes her mother’s whole life,” Love said. Penny made a “bold step” in deciding to sell her needlecraft table linens Dec. 7.
“She made some Christmas money, and everyone who interacted with her was blessed,” Love said. “Jeannie basked in all the attention.”
Volunteers of all ages participated in the church’s Dec. 7 craft fair ministry. Children from the church school outlined the vendors’ spaces with masking tape. Church members placed road signs and distributed cards and fliers advertising the fair.
Each family attending the craft fair was asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for a needy child at Christmas. Shoppers donated 130 toys on Dec. 7 that will be given to families in need. Among those receiving the toys are families to whom the church ministers, children suggested by local elementary schools, and neighbors of church members.
Beyond ministry, stewardship of funds and items donated for the craft fair is always a concern, organizers said. Door prizes are donated and even the concession stand food was purchased and sold with the goal of breaking even. Unused food was sold back to the church’s Christian school for athletic events’ concessions. All advertising signs are reclaimed for use the following year.
In a few weeks the Holiday Hearts Gift and Craft Fair team will begin planning the 2014 event. The team included Rebecca McGinley, event captain; Teresa Barber, concessions; Jodie Baker, hospitality volunteers; Melanie Love and Nina Thompson, vendor selection and communication.
“Holiday Hearts Gift and Craft Fair is not a project, it is a ministry,” Love said. “We want everyone there to be affected by the evidence of grace of Old Plank Baptist Church.”
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