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Gingerbread Village celebrates 25 years of making memories and aiding the community

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It takes a village to put on Gingerbread Village, a local gingerbread house-making event that draws thousands every year.

It also takes 18,000 hand-cut graham crackers (sized for walls and a rooftop), 35 5-gallon buckets of icing and 1,836 pounds of candy and cereal, according to organizers.

More than 200 volunteers are expected to be on hand during the 25th annual Gingerbread Village this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10) at Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean Blvd.

Organizers have enough supplies to make 4,500 houses, said Chris Reed, a member of the Assistance League of Wichita and the event co-chair. Last year’s event drew 4,400 people. Each person who attends gets a house-making kit.

Gingerbread Village is a fundraising event for the the assistance league, which supports four key community programs; two are education-related, while the other two support sexual assault survivors and children who are victims of violence.

During the two-day event, about 90 members of the assistance league are joined by other community volunteers, including high school and college students, to keep the supplies coming and offer construction advice as both novice and experienced house builders make their houses.

“It’s fun to see parents and kids work together,” Reed said.

Some individuals combine their kits to make two-story structures. Reed, a retired schoolteacher, said the event provides an opportunity for using problem-solving skills, learning about structures and letting imagination and creativity take over.

And yes, sometimes, the supplies, which include tree-shaped pretzels and popcorn that can be used as snow, do get eaten instead of being used solely for construction purposes.

“I take my grandchildren and as they’ve gotten older, they build more and eat less,” said Reed.

Some of the more experienced and returning builders bring extra supplies, like coconut to simulate snow, to make what Reed calls “fancier” houses.

“But if you build with what we give you, you can build cute houses,” she said.

To organize the event, the assistance league gets help from area businesses, organizations, schools and individuals.

For example, Livingston’s Diner prepares the icing, while Kernel’s Popcorn Express donates the popcorn. Students at Wichita Northwest High School cut foam bases for the houses, while USD 259 provides storage space and transportation for some supplies. Fidelity Bank and the Bruce G. Cochener Foundation sponsor the event.

“It’s a major production,” said Mona Hobson, another league member.

When the Assistance League of Wichita started Gingerbread Village in 1995 — seven years after the organization was founded — the event consisted of an auction of houses created by local chefs and cooks. The first event featured 400 houses and took place at Plymouth Congregational Church. A decade ago, Gingerbread Village became a hands-on event for families and other individuals, Reed said.

The Wichita league, the only Kansas chapter within the National Assistance League, according to a news release, raises about half of the funding for its four key programs through its thrift store at 2431 E. Douglas. Grants, including some from local employees’ groups, along with individual donations and proceeds from Gingerbread Village and the league’s newest event, A Day with Authors, provide the remaining funding.

25th annual Gingerbread Village

What: a hands-on gingerbread house-building event that benefits the Assistance League of Wichita

Where: Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean Blvd.

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10

Admission & other costs: $10.50 ages 12-64, $9 seniors, $7 ages 3-11, free for ages 2 and younger; $5 for Exploration Place members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through Exploration Place or at the door. Admission includes gingerbread house kit and exploring Exploration Place exhibits. Baked pies, cookies and other goodies, made by ALW members, are available for purchase.

More information: 316-660-0620 or assistanceleague.org/wichita

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