Woman wearing a hat behind a table full of folded cloth.
Ellyn Ito, executive director of Seeds to Sew International, shows the Christmas bags that women in Kenya sew. The nonprofit, based in New Jersey, has a table at the Alternative Gift Fair in Evergreen each year. Credit: Deb Hurley Brobst

The Alternative Gift Fair is a yearly excursion for Ellyn Ito.

Ito, a former Colorado resident, returns to Evergreen each year from the East Coast to have a table for her nonprofit, Seeds to Sew International, at the fair. Ito said there was nothing like the Alternative Gift Fair with friendly volunteers and shoppers, plus the nonprofit sold a lot of items to help women in Kenya.

Ito stood behind a table on Nov. 12 at the fair at Evergreen Lutheran Church, wearing a chef’s hat and demonstrating how the Christmas bags made in Kenya work. She said the idea started when her husband wrapped gifts by putting them in pillowcases, saying it was better for the planet. The next year, Ito’s family created Christmas bags rather than using wrapping paper, tape and bows.

That notion morphed into a nonprofit started in 2011 that teaches Kenyan women to sew simple bags that Seeds to Sew sells for them. The women learn to sew more complex items through the nonprofit with the goal of helping them be self-sufficient and active participants in their communities, Ito said. 

The seamstress signs each bag, Ito explained to shoppers at the fair.

Seeds to Sew was one of more than 30 local and regional nonprofit vendors at the fair. In its 23rd year, the fair is an annual shopping tradition in the foothills, and its slogan is “Shop once. Gift twice” since the nonprofits get all of the money from selling items to help their cause. 

Many of the volunteers come from the sponsoring churches: Evergreen Lutheran, United Methodist Church of Evergreen, Church of the Hills, Congregation Beth Evergreen, Church of the Transfiguration and Christ the King.

Beijos Brasil, another nonprofit featured at the Alternative Gift Fair, sells artisan-created jewelry made from grass. The grass dries to a golden color, according to Lynn Smith, a volunteer for the organization. 

The jewelry is lightweight and is purchased from the artisans to help them make a living, Smith said.

Elisa Kohli and Meghan Buckwalter explained the nonprofit Kenya’s Kids to shoppers. The nonprofit operates a home for 30 children, supporting them and their families. 

The nonprofit buys bead animals created by widows living in Kenya, providing the widows with income. Then the nonprofit sells the crafts, using the money for the school.

“We are in a very rural, tribal area,” Kohli said. “There are a lot of kids with nowhere to go.”

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