For shoppers weary of malls and discount chains, St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg is providing a peaceful alternative.
Instead of filling shopping bags with presents, visitors will leave this marketplace with cards noting their donations to charitable organizations in the name of those who would ordinarily be receiving their gifts.
The organizations are as near as Christmas in April, which renovates homes for low-income Carroll County residents, or as far as the missions in Guatemala, Kenya and India. The charities offer such services as helping the homeless, people with AIDS and abused women.
"Giving this way takes away some of the holiday frenzy and allows us to focus on a season of peacefulness and joy," said Mary B. Pulick, pastoral associate for Christian Service at the parish on Liberty Road.
Each organization attends the market and provides visitors information on their work. Some recruit volunteers as well as collect donations.
"It increases awareness that these problems exist," said Pulick. "It covers all areas of the Christian service community. We want the market to be an education. It also is a real learning process for children on sharing time, talent and treasure."
Customers visit a display to learn about an organization and decide if they want to contribute.
"There is no pressure or competition," said Jean Bruner, a committee member. "None of these people will approach you. But you will see a sense of compassion and justice. They are asking for empathy for what their organizations are about."
Pulick said, "But they will gladly answer your questions."
Volunteers will spend most of tomorrow transforming the gymnasium into an "Advent Wonderland," said Pulick. "This is an unthreatening, festive atmosphere."
Glittering stars will hang from the ceiling, and candles will provide light. Pale blue netting will conceal basketball hoops.
St. Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated Sunday, will give out chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil and tell stories about helping the needy. With a traditional miter and staff, he is dressed like a bishop, not Santa Claus in a red velvet suit.
"He does not ask children what they want for Christmas," said Pulick. "He might ask what would be the best gift for Mom or Dad."
Parishioners donate to a bake table. Last year proceeds purchased new sweat suits for Springfield Hospital Center patients.
About 1,000 visited the market last year and raised more than $11,000 for several charities. Many organizations wrote thank-you notes to the parish.
"Know that your generosity will assist our organization in the continued effort to help keep Carroll County residents in their homes," wrote administrators of Christmas in April last year.
After shopping, visitors hand their list to the cashier and make their donations. They receive a card noting their donation and in whose name it was made.
"This is such a wonderful gift," said Pulick. "I give donation cards to all my nieces and nephews. I used to send them all something they really don't need. This is a gift that helps people who are in trouble."
Mary Ellen Gonski gives cards to her children's teachers.
"How many little red wooden apples does a teacher need?" Gonski asked. "Many wrote notes thanking me for sharing our bounty with others less fortunate. There are so many who deserve some of what we have."
The parish used to adopt needy families but "even that was promoting the commercialized end of Christmas," said Pulick. "We wanted something that was truly an alternative."
The market will be open at 5: 30 p.m. tomorrow and from 8 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m. Sunday. The church is at Liberty Road and Freedom Avenue. Information: 410-795-7838.
Pub Date: 12/04/98