Powering the Craft Movement

Poptart and I wrote about volunteering one’s crafting skills last year when we helped build a community garden, but other skills are also vital to keep the craft movement strong. Craft fairs often need people who can help with set up, take down, customer service, vendor support, planning and much more so even when you’re not crafting, you can help fellow crafters succeed. Rather than seeing other craftspeople as competition, Poptart and I see them as partners in a craft revolution that is showing Americans just how valuable and heartwarming handmade and local can be. We are a community, and communities rely on the active participation of their members. That’s why Poptart and I believe so strongly in volunteering.

This past weekend we volunteered for the SF Etsy Indie Holiday Emporium held at Pier 35 in San Francisco. I have to admit that Poptart had to do a bit of convincing before I agreed to help with this event because it took place on Black Friday weekend in one of the most popular tourist areas of the city, and Poptart wanted to volunteer for the 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift on Small Business Saturday. However, her adventurous spirit and promise to provide plenty of coffee finally won me over, and we signed up.

Poptart found out about the event on Facebook from the SF Etsy page; the show would take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and about 168 Etsy Sellers would have booths. Poptart and I decided we wanted to help with set up and vendor support so we chose the early shift. This allowed us to avoid the holiday crowds on the commute into the city. We also chose public transportation to avoid parking drama. Finally, we didn’t take any purses or bags and wore light jackets in case there was nowhere to leave our things (there wasn’t). These are just some planning things to keep in mind to keep your volunteer experience as stress free as possible.

The best advice we can give you is don’t be shy. If you have a talent for a particular task let organizers know. They are often grateful for your enthusiasm and feedback. They also don’t have time to babysit or micro manage, so being confident in your abilities and with your task is important.

After getting a feel for the scene, Poptart and I quickly found a place we could be useful. We helped mark vendor spots at the pier, answered vendor questions and directed them to their spot, helped vendors set up their booths, and helped vendors haul their equipment and merchandise to their spot. There was very little parking in front of the pier for unloading, so many vendors were stressed and scrambling. It felt good to help relieve some of their stress by watching their merchandise while they parked, helping them get all their things where they needed to be, and troubleshooting any obstacles that popped up.

Poptart and I greatly enjoyed the experience. It was hard, fulfilling work that was appreciated by event organizers and vendors. Many event organizers came to us to thank us for our help, and vendors even stopped us after our shift ended to express their thanks. SF Etsy even dedicated a post to us on Instagram and Facebook:

Besides receiving warm thanks, each volunteer also received a gift certificate to use at the event as well as an adorable helper pin made by Rebecca Saylor of OodleBaDoodle that we got to keep. It felt great to check out the booths after our shift and know that we helped put everything together. The shopping after was, of course, a big bonus. Poptart and I found a truffula tree as well as new prints by two of our favorite local artists, Amy Rose Moore and Nidhi Chanani.

Another incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the opportunity to meet and interact with your favorite crafters and artists. We were delighted to receive our marching orders from Rebecca of OodleBaDoodle, one of our favorite Etsy sellers (check out her adorable pillows!). We also got to speak with Amy Rose Moore for the first time.

But of course, the greatest incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the knowledge that by doing so, you are crafting a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where goods are made and sold locally, artists and crafters are treasured for their skills and imaginations, and shoppers are not beholden to big box retailers. Long live handmade!

Creating Care Packages for the Homeless

Poptart and I were appalled recently by what, in our opinion, could be called the War on the Homeless. Ignorant and cruel memes flooding Facebook, newspaper editorials from citizens complaining about having to “put up” with the less fortunate, and downright abuse and assaults like what happened to Kelly Thomas make it seem that America is a country that delights in kicking someone when he or she is down. People call the homeless lazy as if this is a worthy excuse for their hate and neglect, and they make their judgment without even knowing a person’s story. With the economic downturn, rising costs of living, and loss of quality jobs, it’s not as hard to become homeless as many assume. And it’s time people started bravely posting statements of love instead of hate.

Poptart and I live in the Bay Area, where there is a large homeless population. We’ve met a lot of homeless people. Frankly, they are some of the nicest people we’ve met. People are too complicated to put into a category, to be given a label, to be forgotten. And people should be ashamed for passing judgment as casually as they order a latte.

Poptart and I wanted to work against this antipathy toward the homeless by creating care packages for as many as we could afford so they know that there are still some who care and who have the capacity for love.  We’ll walk you through the care package and how we dispersed them in case you want to give to the homeless as well.

First, we came up with a list of items we would love to receive if we were homeless. The recent cold spell in California that has resulted in the deaths of some of the homeless reminded us how important things like blankets and socks are. We also thought vitamin and mineral deficiencies and hydration would be a major issue for someone with little access to food and water. We also wanted to include a little luxury item just for the lifting of spirits. Keeping all of this in mind, the list we came up with includes a quilt, socks, fruits and vegetables, chocolate, and a drink.  Poptart had the wonderful idea of using a 5 gallon bucket to place the items in so their recipient can protect them from the elements and use the bucket for personal hygiene or as a chair.

The quilts Poptart made by hand and used freshly laundered but worn out t-shirts for the filling.  We found nice, warm fleece on sale at a craft store. This was, by far, the most expensive item in the bucket ($60 for four quilts), but it was also the most important item, we felt.

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Poptart knitted the socks. She made them thick and big to be worn at night.  She made them from existing craft supplies, so this item cost nothing.

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Poptart also went to our local farmer’s market for fruits and vegetables. This allowed her to get a lot for a low cost and support local vendors. She got apples, but she also got oranges in case the recipient doesn’t have the teeth to handle the apple. She also got carrots because they are durable and last a long time. She got enough fruits and vegetables to fill four buckets for only $14. We washed and dried all of the produce before putting it in the buckets so it’s ready to eat. Keep in mind that recipients of the care package might not have easy access to clean water to do these basic things.

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For a drink, we chose PowerAde. We were going to go with water, but we decided on a sports drink instead because it hydrates while restoring electrolytes. A big pack of PowerAde bottles cost us just $5.

For the special luxury item, we got bars of Belgian milk chocolate (of course) for each bucket.

This time, we were able to put together four bucket care packages. Each bucket contained three bottles of PowerAde, a quilt, a pair of socks, a bag of fruits and vegetables, and a bar of chocolate. Finally, we put a content list on the lid of the bucket with pictures in case the recipient can’t read and a note wishing the owner a happy holiday season.

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We drove into San Francisco to hand out the buckets. We gave one away to a man on Fisherman’s Wharf. He seemed to be most excited about the fruit, and it warmed our hearts to see him sorting through his treasures as we walked away. We gave two more buckets away on Haight to a couple. They thanked us, and the lady told Poptart she’s pretty. They also said they would have to volunteer at the Salvation Army to repay the kindness. When we drove away, the man was going through his bucket and seemed happy.  The last bucket went to a man outside the Posey tube in Oakland. He was a little wary at first but took the bucket once we explained it had fruit inside. He seemed to think we were playing a trick on him but thanked us once he realized the gesture was genuine.

I’ve heard people say that some “homeless” are con artists and that people who give to them are suckers. Well, we’d rather be suckers with the chance of helping one person genuinely in need than to be scrooges making the world a colder, more hateful place for everyone. Altogether, the buckets cost around $100, but they brought smiles to four people. I consider this a worthy investment, and it was much more fulfilling than wasting the money on something we don’t need. If you make your own care packages and distribute them, consider what items would be most useful but also include a treat. What would you want to find in your bucket? Remember, crafting a better tomorrow for those around you crafts a better world for you and future generations.