International shopping for fun and philanthropy

The Prague Post

Christmas Bazaar returns with unique gifts and lofty goals

There won’t be DVD players for $19.99 (435 Kc), or any special prizes for the first 20 people. But the annual Christmas Bazaar sponsored by the Diplomatic Ladies Association (DLA) still promises to be a special event.

Now in its sixth year at the Hilton Prague hotel, the bazaar offers a unique holiday shopping experience and some much-needed help for charities in the Czech Republic.

“All the money raised is donated to charity,” says Ulla Elfenkämper, wife of the German ambassador and president of the DLA. “Last year, more than 5 million Kc was raised and given to 46 carefully selected charities.”

Founded in 1997, the DLA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting international friendship and assisting humanitarian organizations in the Czech Republic. Each charity is visited by DLA members throughout the year.

“Committee members meet after the bazaar to decide which of the charities that applied will receive funds,” explains Ruth Arazi, wife of the Israeli ambassador and charity coordinator for the DLA. “The charities must be nonprofit and be able to support themselves throughout the year without our help; the DLA supports special projects.”

Past projects that have received DLA support include a swimming pool for severely disabled children, special-care beds for disabled patients and support for a social worker in an elderly-care home.

“There’s an abused women’s home in Brno [south Moravia] where they provide shelter for women and children,” says Bernadette Hamill, wife of the Irish ambassador and vice president of the DLA. “We’re helping to fund counseling services for the women, and we’d like to expand it to the children as well.”

The Christmas Bazaar is what makes it possible for the DLA to support such worthy causes. Last year, more than 8,000 people attended. The event is volunteer-run and -organized, so there are no overhead costs.

“Different countries participate in different ways,” says Elfenkämper. “Some may donate raffle prizes, but not have a stand. Many countries sell tickets; some do a combination.”

There will be 50-60 country-specific booths this year, selling a variety of specialty items, handmade creations and packaged food. In previous years, the German booth has offered homemade cookies and decorations, Israel had health and beauty products from the Dead Sea, and Italy sold pasta and fashion accessories.

“There are a lot of repeat customers, because they know certain stands will have items they can only get in that country or at specialty shops,” says Elfenkämper.

The 50 Kc admission price includes a raffle ticket. “Raffle items must have a minimum value of 3,000 Kc to ensure a high standard and good variety,” says Hamill. “Examples of prizes include airline tickets, vases, handmade rugs and paintings.”

Additional raffle tickets can be purchased for 50 Kc apiece, and the winners need not be present at the 2 p.m. drawing. If there’s anything left in the booths after that, Hamill says, “bargaining is encouraged.”

The bazaar is traditionally opened by first lady Livia Klausová, who also does a little shopping while she’s there.

Last year, the bazaar raised a total of 5.3 million Kc, 1 million more than the previous year, and the DLA hopes to match that increase this year. “It’s very important we get the support from the public,” says Hamill. “The charities are so appreciative.”

And where else can you tour the world as you check people off your gift list?