A Tribute to Harriet Pritchard

Written by Scott Sabin on December 5, 2014 in General

I recently learned that Harriet Pritchard, the founder of Alternative Gifts International, passed away this fall. Although it has been many years since I’ve seen Harriet, she had a profound influence on my life.


Today, people are familiar with the concept of alternative gifts in which contributions to help the needy are given as representative Christmas presents. Harriet was a true pioneer of this concept. Through Alternative Gifts International, she created an off-the-shelf program so that any church could hold a market and raise money for the poor. In so doing, she popularized the concept all over the nation.

In the late 1980s I attended Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, which had one of the first—and for many years one of the largest—Alternative Gift Markets. It was there that I first heard the name of the organization that has been my employer for the last 22 years. I was buying chickens, goats, and water wells for my brother and sister when someone said to make sure I purchased trees from Plant With Purpose. That was enough to plant the seed of this organization in me although; it was several years before I connected with Plant With Purpose again.

Harriet was a big supporter of Plant With Purpose, raising money to plant hundreds of thousands of trees in the Dominican Republic before turning her attention to Haiti.

In 1995 it was Harriet who coaxed us into working in Haiti. For a long time we had said we would never work there. Most on staff spoke Spanish. All we knew about Haiti was that it was very different from the Dominican Republic. A country in Central America would be a much easier jump culturally and linguistically. But Harriet was visiting Haiti while I was in the Dominican Republic and she convinced me that it would not be too difficult a drive to meet her in the mountains of Grand Colline. In fact, it proved to be very difficult and Eldon Garcia, our Dominican director, and I arrived a day and a half later than we had planned. I remember so clearly how happy I was to see Harriet coming from the guesthouse in the little village of Cherident. I remember just as clearly how as we left the next day, I had the sense that we just had a divine appointment.

I have visited Haiti over 30 times since and it has become one of my favorite places on earth. Plant With Purpose has worked in 89 Haitian villages and empowered local farmers to plant 2.2 million trees, construct 1,700 miles of soil erosion barriers, and plant hundreds of gardens. Alternative Gift Markets funded a portion of those efforts but even more important it was Harriet who catalyzed the whole enterprise with her enthusiasm and encouragement.

There are other stories I could tell. For example, the time when the cocoa trees being planted with Alternative Gifts money got mistranslated as coca trees, much to Harriet’s horror. We have called then chocolate trees ever since. However, it was her passion and vision that both introduced me to my vocation at Plant With Purpose and gave me my love for Haiti. That is what I am especially thankful for. You will be missed Harriet but your life bore fruit that will last for generations to come.

For more on Harriet and her legacy, see this tribute at Alternative Gifts International.

Click here to view Plant With Purpose’s current project in the Alternative Gifts Catalogue.

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