Community Thrives at Decatur’s Annual Holiday Marketplace & Cafe

Community Thrives at Decatur’s Annual Holiday Marketplace & Cafe

By Phoebe Knight

If anything is more gratifying than wrapping up your holiday shopping, it’s the knowledge that the money you spent supported community, education and the arts.

Born 25 years ago out of a collaboration between parents, teachers, artists and community leaders to support Clairemont Elementary School, the Decatur Holiday Marketplace & Café is a massive indoor art festival that adds the warm glow of social good to the sweet satisfaction of checking names off your shopping list.

The event benefits everyone involved: The school uses the funds to support educational programs beyond what the Clairemont PTA raises on its own, and winter festivals are an important opportunity for artists who enjoy increased sales during the holidays.

Colorful art pieces on display at the Decatur Holiday Marketplace & Café

Colorful art pieces on display at the Decatur Holiday Marketplace & Café

Over the years, the Marketplace has evolved from a small event to a massive community engagement project. Marketplace Committee Chair Jennifer Frediani told us, “There are groups of neighbors that have been shopping together for literally decades.”

When it began, only a handful of sellers presented work, but this year’s lineup features more than a hundred artists and craftspeople selling products that make meaningful and unique holiday gifts. Many artists are local, but the popularity of the Marketplace has grown so much that some travel hundreds of miles to participate.

Much of the food served at the café is provided by local businesses like Souper Jenny and Revolution Doughnuts. Parent volunteers spend days in the kitchen whipping up homemade desserts and delicious soups to supply the rest.

In fact, soups are a significant part of the Marketplace tradition. Each year the Cafe features at least one vegan option, but the crowd favorite is the Seafood Gumbo, which sells out every year (often within the first hour). This year, the volunteer teams coordinated to make extra gumbo, but they still don’t expect the increased supply to last long.

Chef Gary Sims preparing Souper Jenny’s famous Seafood Gumbo

Chef Gary Sims preparing Souper Jenny’s famous Seafood Gumbo

The magic of the Marketplace lies in how so many moving parts coordinate in a relatively short amount of time to bring together a cohesive event. Classes at the school don’t end until 2:25 p.m., leaving little time to set up before the Marketplace opens its doors at 5:30 p.m.

As soon as students clear the premises, a host of volunteers descend on the school to prepare and decorate. Desks and classrooms supplies are tucked away and cafe tables replace the child-sized lunchroom benches. In only slightly more than two hours, the school is transformed into a winter wonderland.

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The Clairemont cafeteria transformed into the Marketplace Café

According to PTA Co-President Kelly Walsh, the Holiday Marketplace is the largest and most important fundraising event for the school. “Funds from the Marketplace support activities that enhance our Expeditionary Learning programs,” she said. “Because of the Marketplace we can pay for things like the partnerships with the Atlanta-based Alliance Theatre and the Wylde Center which are very important to all four of our grades.”

Funds are also used to meet the school’s technology needs. Celeste Tibbets, Clairemont’s library media and technology specialist, explained that the PTA’s efforts allowed the purchase of laptops, iPads and iPod touches that are used school-wide in classrooms and in the Media Center.

Clairemont Student Connor Chin benefitted from the use of laptops when he was struggling to learn math in second grade. He explained that the learning apps he accessed online made the concepts easier to grasp. Now, in third grade, he uses laptops in the Media Center to improve his typing skills. “I like typing. I want to get better so I’m glad I can practice on the computers,” he said.

Decatur Holiday Marketplace & Café is open on Friday, December 2 from 5:30 p.m.– 9:30 P.M. and Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m. The Marketplace is hosted at Clairemont Elementary School, 155 Erie Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030.

Images courtesy of the Clairemont PTA

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