Presbyterian 6922

Presbyterian Women members Mary Bongiovi, Melissa Brown, and Linda Jenkins. Bongiovi holds a holiday decoration made in Haiti.

Cancellation of the Irvington Presbyterian Church’s annual “attic sale” not only disappointed the bargain hunters who flock to the church every September for everything from furniture to designer fashions, it also undermined the church’s program of giving.

Proceeds from the attic sale, which has been going on since 1950, according to Mary Bongiovi, president of the Presbyterian Women service organization, fund the church’s contributions to area charities.

As so many institutions have done in the age of Covid, the church is turning to the internet, hoping to at least partially fill its coffers via the online sale of handcrafted gifts from around the world.

In 2019, the church raised $46,000 from the two-day attic sale. The church donated the proceeds to 40 different local organizations and donated unsold items such as housewares and clothing to 15 organizations. 

But with the pandemic making crowded gatherings impossible, the organizers determined there was no safe way to run the event this year.

“We were trying to think of virtual ways to raise money,” Bongiovi said. She put out a plea for fundraising ideas via the church’s email list. Help came the next day from Linda Jenkins, a longtime Irvington resident and church member. 

Jenkins, a former business and finance executive in New York, has for 10 years been a sales representative for Trades of Hope, a company that markets handcrafted fashions, accessories, and gift items made by artisans around the world. They work under guidelines of the Fair Trade Federation to protect them from exploitation. When Jenkins received Bongiovi’s email, she offered to run a special Trades of Hope sale online and donate her usual commissions to the church. 

As Jenkins explained in an interview, her husband, John (known as Jay) grew up in the manse of the Irvington Presbyterian Church. “His parents, the late Dr. Frederick Jenkins and Mary Elizabeth Jenkins, were the minister and the organist/choir director for 25 years,” Jenkins said. “We have a deep connection to the church. I’ve been involved with the attic sale for years, and when they announced they could not do it this year, that’s a huge amount for the charities, and so I offered. With my business, I’m fortunate I can use my commissions for many different fundraisers, and I’m happy to do that. We decided that the timing made sense, close to the holidays.”

In non-pandemic times, Jenkins sells the Trades of Hope merchandise at home parties, special events, and speaking engagements to women’s groups and mission groups. “I was one of the very first ‘compassionate entrepreneur’ partners; we’re basically their independent representatives,” she explained. 

Trades of Hope represents artisans — about 80 percent of whom are women — in India, Pakistan, North and Southeast Asia, Africa, the Mideast, South and Central America and the U.S. Products include jewelry, scarves, clothing, handbags, journals, holiday gifts, and small home décor items. A design team at Trades of Hope’s Florida headquarters provides guidance on fashion trends, while encouraging the artisans to add design details from their own cultures and to use local materials.

“When they can buy their materials locally, it helps their local economy,” Jenkins said. “We’ve had jewelry made from a certain type of amber that’s only found in Mexico, and ‘Larimar,’ a blue stone that’s only found in the Dominican Republic.”

Jenkins said the income earned by the artisans allows them to support themselves and their families. It can help them avoid putting their own children up for adoption because they can’t afford to care for them, and helps them send those children to school. The work helps women leave desperate situations such as living in slums, working in sweatshops or resorting to lives of sexual exploitation. 

Trades of Hope “tithes” a portion of their profits to what they call “Gifts of Hope” — various long-term educational, business or self-improvement opportunities for women, as well as disaster assistance. In addition, “Because it’s ‘fair trade,’ the artisans get paid up front, so whether their products sell or not, the artisans get paid,” Jenkins said. “The founders never quibble with them over what they need to get a fair and living wage.”

To order gifts that will be credited to the Irvington Presbyterian Church fundraiser, visit tradesofhope.com/LindaJenkins. The fundraiser will be active until Dec. 31.

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