NORMAL — For many reasons, the annual Alternative Gifts Fair at the Mennonite Church in Normal will be remembered as one of the most unusual in 10 years of existence.

For the first time, a severe storm forced the evacuation of the church into a church basement and more importantly, says one of the fair’s organizers, the fair raised $15,000 and brought the 10-year, overall total to $105,000.

“Our goal was to raise $10,000 this year and reach that $100,000 mark,” said Meredith Schroeer. “Raising an extra $5,000 beyond that is a tremendous way to celebrate our 10th year. We are thrilled.”

The fair is a way to make the holidays more meaningful and to help build a better world, Schroeer said. Congregation members have an opportunity to support projects from either the Mennonite Central Committee or the Alternative Gifts International catalog. The financial support provides help to hungry, sick and homeless people around the world.

Projects include donating money for bikes for those in need in the Third World or the construction of wells in Africa.

In its first year, the fair raised about $5,000 said Roelie Homan, a co-chairwoman of the event.

“It was much different then,” she said. “Our members have really responded to this and have done such a great job in raising money to help people around the world. What we are hoping is that other churches see this and then do something similar at their church.”

Schroeer and Homan promote the fair as a way to give a different kind of Christmas gift and rewrote the “The 12 Days of Christmas” to include some of the different gifts that members may select. Ideas included in the song are a house for a Haitian family, mosquito nets for Kenya, groceries for U.S. residents, blankets for North Korea and chickens for Ethiopia.

“We sing that song on the first day of the fair,” Schroeer said. “It’s a great way to kick it off.”

Sunday’s storm didn’t have any effect on the donations, she said.

“We always have it for two consecutive Sundays and so when the storm hit, we already had most of the donations in place,” she said. “But it is something most of us will never forget.”

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