By Arlene Edmonds

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Africa comes to St. Ignatius Parish every year.

The African Marketplace, held on the lower level of the church, drew artisans and shoppers from West Philadelphia parishes, those who attend Catholic churches in the surrounding area and neighborhood folks who live in the Cobbs Creek community.

Carol Shepherd Gibbs, this year’s marketplace organizer, was pleased with the parish fundraiser.

Over four consecutive Sundays an array of vendors featuring Afrocentric and Catholic wares were present. Some came for just one week, while others were among the steady mainstays. Thus, those who came to the marketplace got a different flavor even if they came out every weekend.

“We usually average several dozen people every Sunday,” said Gibbs. “I think it was started by Keith White before he became the administrator of the St. Peter Claver Center. It has been going on for several years now. Three years ago I started helping out with it. This is my second year just doing it, and it’s a major fundraiser.”

Around 9 a.m. each Sunday vendors arrive to set up their tables and displays. An hour later the marketplace is open to the public, which usually includes those who attend the morning’s Masses. There is a steady stream of sales until the event closes around 2 p.m. The marketplace, however, has been known to close as late as 3 or 4 p.m. if there are still shoppers.

At the beginning of each year the parish makes a call for vendors. There is a $30 fee per vendor for each time they participate in the marketplace. Some vendors opt to be part of the event for a single Sunday, while others return each week. Many of the vendors have participated in the event for a few years, according to Gibbs.

“We just get such a variety of vendors,” said Gibbs. “We have some selling authentic African garb, which draws a lot of people. This year we’ve had the Salt Lady who talks about the herbs and other healthy things one can use on their food in place of (table) salt. She sells many of these. We have another lady who makes her own soap. Then there are jewelry makers, who make the most original earrings. There’s another woman who makes inspirational T-shirts.”

One of the popular vendors is the one who calls herself the “Doll Lady.” This year she came for the final Sunday of the event. She brings with her an array of Afrocentric dolls, many of them hand made or rare finds. Many doll collectors really enjoy her presence at the fair, Gibbs said.

For Gibbs the marketplace is also reunion time. An alumna of St. Ignatius School and West Catholic High School, she often extends invitations to her former classmates. In fact, when they came to the recent marketplace, Gibbs took the opportunity to invite them to the upcoming alumni cabaret to be held on Saturday, May 16, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Gibbs is also active in other Church activities. She serves as lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, sings in the choir, teaches RCIA and CCD, is secretary to the parish council, is a member of the evangelization committee and assists the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. “I love coordinating things at my church because I am working for God,” Gibbs said.

For ticket information for the May 16 gala or to participate in the 2010 African Marketplace call Gibbs at 610-405-5590 or e-mail

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at