One of the ways people know that the holiday season has arrived in Wichita is when Gingerbread Village takes place in all its sugar-coated, graham-cracker goodness.
Thousands of children — and a good many adults — will pack into Church of the Magdalen this weekend to marvel at expertly crafted gingerbread houses and to create their own miniature versions festooned with gooey frosting, colorful candies and delicious decorations.
It's all for a good cause.
This is the 15th year that the Assistance League of Wichita has held the fundraising event to help pay for projects benefiting local school children.
And it takes lots of volunteers to carry out the event, starting in late September, when a group gathers with serrated knives to cut 25,000 graham crackers into the proper shapes for walls and roofs.
These aren't just any old graham crackers, said Sue Dunlop, event chairwoman. They must not be the perforated kind, and they have to be sturdy enough to withstand being packed and stored for six weeks or so. The league spends about $1,500 on the graham crackers.
Chef Mark Barton and his staff at Crestview Country Club donate the frosting — about 150 gallons made with meringue powder and water.
Other volunteers — there are about 300 in all — will spend about $1,500 to buy colorful candies like Skittles and Fruit Loop cereal, then divide them into individual portions.
Volunteers from Wichita-area high schools will be on duty in the church's large activity room to help kids assemble and decorate their houses, as well as replenish supplies.
"They're all trained on how to put one of these things together," Dunlop said. "They (houses) can really be very nice, if people take the time with them. They can take something home that's very nice."
The league expects as many as 3,600 people to attend this weekend's event, which will raise about $60,000, she said.
The money is used to help the league with its four main philanthropic projects: Operation School Bell, which provides new clothing for children in the Wichita school district; vocational scholarships for graduating seniors; survival kits for adult sexual assault victims; and teddy bears and clothing for sexual assault victims who are children.
This year, the league started Gingerbread Express to take Gingerbread Village into the schools. During the first two weeks of November, volunteers worked with 700 second- and third-graders to build gingerbread houses at schools in the district. Gingerbread Express replaced field trips that schoolchildren typically took to Gingerbread Village on the opening day of the three-day event.
People who attend Gingerbread Village will start by touring the Village, which features 26 gingerbread houses created by volunteers. Some of the houses were sold at a preview party Thursday night; others will be for sale during this weekend's event.
The Village also includes a 6-foot-fall replica of a gingerbread house and a miniature ice-skating rink with a gingerbread boy skating around it.
If you go
What: All materials to make gingerbread houses, displays of gingerbread houses, a fundraiser for Assistance League of Wichita
Where: Church of the Magdalen, 12626 E. 21st St.
When: 2-8 p.m. today, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 12:30-5 p.m. Sun.
How much: Advance tickets $5 at Assistance League Thrift Shop, Cambridge Market Shops, Watermark Books, First Place and Capital Federal branches; $7 at the door, children 2-under free.
For more information, call 316-687-5633.