Charity Mixes With Russian Cheer

MTMoscow youth at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church decorating crafts for the Dushevnoi Bazar.

Slava Gusev turned the mug that he was decorating with paint drips, blowing on the wet paint and trying in vain to keep it from running down the side.

"We're improvising," he explained.

But Gusev and the other young people who gathered at St. Andrew's Anglican Church in central Moscow on a recent evening were hardly trained craftsmen.

Usually they spend their weeknights receiving extra instruction in math and other school subjects from the volunteers at the Center for Equal Opportunities for Child Orphans known as Vverkh, or Going Up, a charitable organization for helping young people without parents finish high school.

Tonight, however, they're making handicrafts to sell at the Dushevnoi Bazar. That will be just one of a handful of charity markets unfolding in Moscow this holiday season.

Vendors at these markets sell their handicrafts, products and wares — with both commercial and nonprofit vendors taking part — and the proceeds go to participating charities.

The organizers of Moscow's charity markets said they offer a fun way to spend a holiday afternoon while sharing in the season's generosity.

"The general theme is that you can spend a weekend day pleasurably and find some interesting presents for loved ones" while helping others, said Irina Ganzha, manager of social projects at the Agency for Social Information, organizer of the Dushevnoi Bazar.

That market is one of Moscow's largest holiday charity markets, with at least 20 charities and noncommercial organizations participating, Ganzha said.

In addition to stands selling handicrafts, the Dec. 19 event will include a concert of professional musicians and Vverkh students, as well as master classes for making origami and Russian folk dolls.

Organizers were expecting the event to draw about 3,000 visitors.

"Our confidence that we will reach these [fundraising and attendance] goals is based on our experience conducting charity events," Ganzha said.

ASI is dedicated to developing civil society through charity-promoting events, volunteerism and social responsibility on the part of businesses, the agency's web site says.

There's an upside for the charities themselves in the markets: They get to advertise their causes and recruit new volunteers.

"On one hand, the money raised won't be unwelcome, but on the other hand, a lot of people will visit this fair, so it gives us a chance to inform about our activities," said Olga Tikhomirova, director of Vverkh.

Holiday Charity Markets in Moscow

Charitable Christmas Bazaar (United Way of Russia)
Wednesday, Dec. 15, from noon to 4 p.m. Dukat Business Center, 6 Ulitsa Gasheka. Metro Mayakovskaya.

Dushevnoi Bazar (Agency for Social Information)
Sunday, Dec. 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hotel Aerostar, 37 Leningradsky Prospekt. Metro Dynamo.

Deloitte & Touche CIS held what may have been one of the early-comers to charity markets in Moscow when it launched the Deloitte Foundation Christmas Bazaar in 2005.

Deloitte audit partner Tim Copeland, who is a board member at the nonprofit Deloitte Foundation, said the idea of a holiday market has taken off.

"At first people were not too familiar with the idea of charity markets, but Russians really seem to be taking to the idea and lots of people come along and drink mulled wine, happy that the proceeds benefit our partner charity Downside Up," he said in a comment e-mailed to The Moscow Times.

Last year's bazaar proved just how committed its volunteers and customers can be: With temperatures outside at roughly negative 25 degrees Celsius, the entire bazaar was moved — that is, moved inside.

This holiday season, AIG/Lincoln Russia had planned to organize a substitute event, the White Square Christmas Market at the Belaya Ploshchad, or White Square, office complex in northern Moscow. But AIG/Lincoln Russia won't be holding the bazaar this year, it said in an e-mail.

The company is hoping to continue the tradition with the 2012 New Year's, it said.

Markets such as Dushevnoi Bazar are helping start a new tradition, as the concept of charity is still nascent in Russia, ASI's Ganzha said. "For now, we don't have a tradition of charity," she said. "It's only beginning to form."

The idea of a Christmas market in December is atypical for Russians because Russian Orthodox Christmas is observed Jan. 7 and New Year's Eve is traditionally the more widely celebrated of those two holidays.

But there is an increasing number of seasonal markets around the capital as evidence that the trend is taking root.

Besides these markets, several holiday charity fundraisers also take place online on sites such as

Still, some obstacles exist for organizers, including legal considerations. Charity funds are not legally allowed to sell goods, so many simply ask for donations in return for a gift.

"Taxes on donations are less and the bookkeeping procedure is easier, and for this reason the majority of [charity] organizations proceed in this manner," said Vverkh volunteer Darya Alexeyeva.

Getting an event sanctioned by the local authorities can be a long process. Although Vverkh is allowed to sell goods, many organizations at the Dushevnoi Bazar aren't — so Vverkh will be seeking only donations in return for its crafts.

For Gusev and the other teenagers and young adults at Vverkh — none of whom have ever been to a holiday market before — the chance to sell or seek donations for their goods at the bazaar is not nearly as important as simply supporting their organization, which gives them knowledge they can't get in the regular school system.

Gusev estimated that his mug might fetch 20 rubles at the market. "If I draw a woman, then it will be more," he grinned.

"I hope you mean Snegurochka," Alexeyeva retorted, referring to the female helper of Ded Moroz, the Russian New Year's equivalent of Santa Claus.

For her part, Vverkh director Tikhomirova has high hopes for Vverkh's first-ever holiday market. "It's a time of wonder, when everybody actually awaits some wonderful change," she said. "It becomes normal to wish to make the holiday good for the maximum amount of people."

She added, "It's the best time to do good."

Moscow Guide Winter 2011
Moscow Guide Winter 2011
<p>A fresh snowfall can make any street in Moscow beautiful. No matter how familiar we are with what lies underneath the snow — a smudgy kiosk, a dusty road, last year’s remont — that layer of white makes our city new.</p>
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