After two years without a job, Ashland resident Elena Lopez has scarce money to purchase Christmas gifts for her three children.

After two years without a job, Ashland resident Elena Lopez has scarce money to purchase Christmas gifts for her three children.

But an event in Ashland Sunday, where participants swap something they have for another item, allowed Lopez to find gifts they'll enjoy, including a game of SpongeBob Kids Cranium and Whoville-opoly.

"It helps economically because I don't have a job, and my husband works seasonally," Lopez said.

The Ashland Abundance Swap began as an environmentally friendly alternative to Black Friday, the heaviest shopping day of the year often associated with rampant consumerism. But some people, such as Lopez, turn to the event for economic reasons.

"It's fair to say attendance has grown in the last three years," said Ashland resident Jeff Golden, a former politician and journalist who founded the event nine years ago. "That says to me some of the growth is more people have heard about it. We hear stories from people who say it's their one chance to get nice presents for the people they care about, but I'm not sure whether it's growing because of the economy."

During the free event, each participant brings three to five items from home that could be given as a gift and may leave with three to four gifts from the offerings others brings.

Some 444 people turned out to the swap Monday, crowding into the Old Ashland Armory on Oak Street.

"My finances are not really good at this time," said Ashland resident Susan Estling. "I haven't been working. This will help financially, and it makes me feel part of the community."

Other participants said they attended because it feels good to give to others.

"Maybe we'll find something, but it was more about giving things to people who need it, things we weren't using," said Medford resident Rebecca Dworkin.

That also was the attitude of Dworkin's two friends, Medford resident Joanie Knitscher and Ashland resident Janet Ligon.

"It is so exciting to me to have an event where people come to be nice to each other and make the holidays shine," Knitscher said.

Since the event began nine years ago, it has been duplicated in more than a dozen other cities, including Ashland, Va., where an abundance swap was also held Sunday.

Leftover items from Sunday's swap were donated to the Northwest Seasonal Workers.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.