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Alternative Gift Market

Ames Alternative Gift Market

The Ames Alternative Gift Market (Ames AGM) is affiliated with Alternative Gifts International (AGI), headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. Our market is one of the most successful of more than 300 AGI gift markets nationwide. The 2022 holiday season marked the 32nd year for Ames AGM. This year, the Ames market supported six local programs, as well as the 30 international and national agencies chosen by AGI.

2022 Participating Congregations:

‚ÄčIf you are not affiliated with a faith group, please contact Cynthia Shriver (515-451-4606,  Catalogs with shopping lists are also available for pickup at Wheatsfield Cooperative in December.  Or you can visit  Note: access to local projects is not available online or through the AGI catalog.


About the Ames Alternative Gift Market

The Ames AGM offers gifts with a conscience. Donors have the option to designate charitable gifts to carefully selected agencies in the name of their relatives, friends, and associates. Since 1991, the Ames AGM has offered a chance to help needy families nearby and far away with a wide selection of meaningful, life-giving gifts that can change Ames or the world.

The Ames AGM is a chance for frustrated shoppers to find that perfect gift for someone who has everything. Instead of buying yet another sweatshirt or electronic gadget, a shopper might purchase meaningful gifts such as supplying construction materials to stop degradation of watersheds in Afghanistan, sponsoring training in solar cooking for women in Kenya, supporting the homeless at The Bridge Home in Ames, or buying a cow to improve the lives of poor families in Mozambique.

Shoppers get an attractive card to send to the person on their holiday list that tells about the gift given in their honor and an insert that describes the gift given in their name that will make a difference in the world. All donations through the purchase of alternative gifts are tax-deductible.

Since its inception AGI has been the catalyst that has allowed gift-givers to donate more than $19 million dollars to numerous charities worldwide on behalf of a loved one. Ames Alternative Gift Market is one of six markets in Iowa.


History of the Ames AGM to the Present

The history that follows was prepared in 2010 when the AGM celebrated 20 years of service to the community. The history was compiled to highlight the growth of this ecumenical activity and the impact it has had on social services and charities in Ames and around the world. Information for this history was contributed by Judie Hoffman, one of the Ames AGM founders, and by Roberta Abraham and Bonnie Bowen.

The organization had its beginnings at Collegiate Presbyterian Church, the first congregation to sponsor an Alternative Gift Market in Ames, and in 2010, ten local congregations sponsored and organized gift markets.

1991-1994: The Ames AGM’s Beginning and Early Growth

Market Booth at an early market

The idea of an Alternative Christmas Market originated in 1980 with Harriet Pritchard, then the director of children’s ministries at the Pasadena, California, Presbyterian church. Her goal was to provide an activity that would demonstrate to children that they can make a difference by giving to help the world’s poor.

The idea has been so successful that today many churches across the United States and in several other countries sponsor markets. Since 1986, when Harriet Pritchard incorporated AGI, millions of dollars have been given to the poor and underprivileged.

Animal display at the CPC market

At the suggestion of Pastor Art Sundstrom, an Alternative Christmas Market was first organized and promoted in Ames by Collegiate Presbyterian Church (CPC) in 1991. Art brought the idea from his previous church in San Antonio, Texas. CPC held the market in its Social Hall. It was a project of CPC’s Church and Society Committee and was chaired by Judie Hoffman and Sandra McJimsey.

The hall was filled with market booths organized by various church committees. At each booth shoppers could learn about specific life-sustaining projects for the poor and for the planet, and then fill out a “shopping list” of the projects they wished to support. At the checkout table, they paid for their gifts and received in return a description of each project they had selected along with a decorative card to be sent to someone on the donor’s Christmas list.

Pastor Sundstrom had reported that at his Texas church the market was outdoors and featured live animals representing some of the gifts persons could purchase. Although November in Iowa meant that CPC would have an indoor market, we decided to have a few animals, too. A good attraction, they were enjoyed by shoppers and booth-keepers alike.

Worldly Goods store display

The Worldly Goods shop in Ames was invited to participate in the market, and it featured several tables full of craft wares made by people in third world countries. These gift items nicely complemented the alternative gifts.

The market was open to the public and CPC publicized it throughout the central Iowa area. The two-day market generated so much enthusiasm that CPC decided to make the gift materials available for sale each Sunday morning through most of December. By the time the project concluded, over 100 individuals had contributed to its success. The project raised about $15,000 for worthy mission projects throughout the world and in Ames, thanks to members of CPC and the community who shopped at the market.

Market Day at Fellows School in 1993

The 1992 market was again offered by CPC, generally following the 1991 model. Given the popularity of the market over two years and hoping to build on these successes, CPC’s organizing committee decided to explore the possibility of ecumenical leadership and sponsorship for subsequent markets. They were successful, and in the next two years, CPC was joined by Northminster Presbyterian, Collegiate United Methodist, and Bethesda Lutheran churches. In 1993, the market was held at Fellows School and in 1994 it was held at Bethesda Lutheran Church, where it remained for 10 years.

Emergency Residence Project display

Beginning with the first market in 1991, the organizers in Ames added local charitable organizations to the national and international projects selected by Alternative Gifts International. In the first year, donors could support the Emergency Residence Project (now The Bridge Home), and in 1992-1994, other local agencies that were supported included ACCESS, People Place, AIDS coalition, and street kits for homeless kids. In 1993, there was a special fund for flood relief through MICA. During the first four years, donors contributed more than $11,000 for local charities and more than $46,000 for national and international projects through AGI.




1995-1999: Increasing Impact and Growth of the Ames AGM

Market Day at Bethesda Lutheran Church

Between 1995 and 1999 the ecumenical collaboration of the Ames AGM increased, with the additional of several new congregations: in 1995, First Baptist and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and in 1998, Friends, First United Methodist, and United Church of Christ became co-sponsors of the Ames AGM. Thus, in 1998 and 1999 nine congregations co-sponsored the Market Day at Bethesda Lutheran Church and collected contributions in their individual churches in November and December. During this period several additional local projects were added, including Bethesda Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, and Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance, while some were not continued. Donations and participation from the community continued to grow, with total contributions in 1999 reaching over $19,000.

2000-2005: Outreach Beyond the Sponsoring Congregations

Market Day display with cultural items

In 2000, St. Cecilia became the 10th congregation to co-sponsor Ames AGM. Market Days at Bethesda Lutheran Church were busy with displays provided by the congregations (many using items from “culture kits” borrowed from the Iowa State Foreign Student Office), entertainment, refreshments, shopping lists, holiday cards, and a table of free- trade gifts from Worldly Goods. The Ames community donated more than $20,000 each year for the local, national and international projects.

Cards displayed at Market Day

By this time, it was clear that Ames AGM had developed a local following of people who chose to give “alternative gifts” to their loved ones for the holidays. However, the organizing committee noticed that while participation by congregation members was high, attendance at the Market Day was declining. They began to look for ways to introduce the AGM to others outside of their own congregations. In 2004 and 2005 Dave Briseno of Northminster Presbyterian Church approached the North Grand Mall and the AGM was invited to participate in Community Day, an educational event, then to host a Market Day to accept donations for Alternative Gifts. Although the amount of money collected at those events was not great, the committee felt that expansion into the community was valuable. At the end of the 2005 market season, the group began investigating other venues that would provide a location with easy access and that would allow us to display our materials for several different days.

2006-2009: Ames AGM in Downtown Ames

AGM in downtown Ames location

In 2006, First United Methodist Church invited the Ames AGM to host their Market Days at the Spiritual Development Center across from the Post Office. For the next four years, Market Days were held there on weekends in November and December when the downtown merchants were sponsoring special shopping days. Advertisements in the Tribune, Advertiser, and other local media alerted the community to the availability of alternative gifts in a convenient location and on multiple shopping dates. Although most of the donations received each year were still collected in the churches, the organizers remained committed to informing members of the Ames community of the availability of alternative gifts, even if they did not attend one of the co-sponsoring churches. In these last four years, the Ames AGM also expanded the list of local agencies that we support, including Food at First, Story County Community Dental Clinic, Global Builders (Ames High Uganda Project), and the Ames-ISU YWCA.

Musical entertainment at Market Day

2010: The 20th Anniversary Year

To celebrate the 20th anniversary year of the Ames Alternative Gift Market, the organizers held a full-scale market similar to the one held the first year, with all the excitement and enthusiasm that accompanied that event. The 20th anniversary market was held at Collegiate Presbyterian Church and was a huge success.


In the ensuing years, the Ames AGM continued to host congregational markets. The community market was held at Wheatsfield Cooperative Grocery Store, 413 Northwestern Avenue in Ames.  The community market was held on one or two Saturdays in December.  A small display was set up and shoppers were given the opportunity to make their purchases in-store. They also could take a catalog and order directly through AGI or contact an Ames AGM committee member at a later time.  Wheatsfield provided the perfect location and atmosphere.   We were and continue to be thrilled with the support and generosity that Wheatfield has shown us.  During this time, several local projects were eliminated due to low support and several congregations dropped their sponsorships for a variety of reasons.

2019-2021: COVID-19 Years

Ames AGM did not host any in-person congregational or community markets during this time because of Covid-19.  Since the need remained great, more so with the virus spreading across the globe, the Ames AGM tried a new method for supporting AGI’s international and national projects, as well as our local projects. Last year’s shoppers from participating congregations and the Wheatsfield Community Market were contacted by email or postal mail.  Shoppers could place their orders with a committee member or with their congregational representative. Transactions involving orders, cards, and payment were conducted through the mail or in person.  Through congregational bulletins and community-at-large-flyers, individuals who had not participated in previous years were given an opportunity to contact a committee member for shopping lists, cards, etc.  In addition, AGI catalogs were available at Wheatsfield in December and shoppers were encouraged to contact AGI directly.  For funds received directly through the Ames market, we are happy to report that the average of donations for 2020, 2021, and 2022 equaled 84% of the three-year average, pre-Covid amount.


With the return of semi-normalcy, each committee member was given the flexibility to return to an in-person congregational market, postal mail/email outreach or a combination of both.  Most chose to do a combination of approaches.  An in-person community market at Wheatsfield was not held due to lingering concerns about COVID-19.  We hope to return to Wheatsfield in 2023.  Our intake for 2022 was 91% of the three-year average, pre-COVID amount.

National Grants

AGI has been generous in awarding national grants to local homeless shelters and food programs that the Ames Committee has nominated.  The awardees are given an additional $1,500 - $3,000 from AGI directly.  Bethesda Food Pantry, Food at First, Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance, ACCESS and The Bridge Home have all been beneficiaries multiple times.  Thank you to AGI!

People of the Market

Over the years, many people have contributed their time and talents to making the AGM a success. While it is impossible to list them all, we would like to honor the following:


Bethesda Community Food Pantry and Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance provide displays about their organizations at a Market Day
  • Ingrid Anderson and Cynthia Shriver who are currently organizing Ames AGM activities.
  • Art Sundstrom, Judie Hoffman, and Sandra McJimsey, organizers of the first AGM in Ames.
  • Dennis Byrne, the longest serving member of the AGM committee and business manager for many years.
  • Brian Meyer, the representative from Bethesda Lutheran Church for many years and convener of the AGM committee until he stepped down in 2008.
  • Roberta Abraham, representative from Collegiate Presbyterian Church, who provided the stimulus for the 20th anniversary Market Day at CPC and this history of the Ames Area AGM.
  • Bonnie Bowen and Cynthia Shriver, who organized the activities for the market between 2008 and 2014.
  • The 50+ people who have represented their churches on the AGM committee.
  • Ames Artists Dick Young, Mary Young and Paul Lem, who contributed woodcut designs for greeting cards to supplement the selection provided by AGI.
  • The many entertainers who delighted market-goers during the years the market was held at Bethesda Lutheran: including the Collegiate Methodist Brass; the Moingona Girl Scouts; the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Folk and the Bluemoon Players; the Bethesda instrumental ensemble; the United Church of Christ girls’ choir; Hollis Munro (singer) and Ken Hanson (pianist); First Baptist Choir; Bethesda Bell Choir; and the St. Cecilia Singers.
  • The staff of the various local charitable organizations who provided marketgoers and information about their services and their needs.
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