Gingerbread Village bigger, sweeter this year

A gentle, giant roar filled the Beech Activity Center as the Christmas spirit kicked in with this weekend’s 17th annual Assistance League of Wichita’s Gingerbread Village.

Several thousand children attended the event, along with the parents and grandparents, enough to make between 3,500 and 5,000 gingerbread houses.

Gumdrops, red hots, candy canes and Skittles provided the decor as children smeared gooey frosting on graham crackers to make their gingerbread masterpieces.

Five-year-old Elizabeth Foulk had white frosting smeared on her face and fingers – and a little on her house.

“I’m not going to eat my house, Logan will,” she said of her 7-year-old brother.

And indeed, he was unashamedly munching on popcorn provided in the Assistance League’s kit for gingerbread decorations.

Elizabeth’s grandmother, Linda Barnes, brought Elizabeth and her two brothers to the event.

“It looks cool,” 9-year-old Jacob Foulk said of his creation.

The best part of making the gingerbread houses, Elizabeth said, is the frosting.

“It’s sugar,” she said.

The annual fundraiser has grown into one of Wichita’s most popular holiday attractions. It offers kids and parents everything they need to assemble edible holiday gingerbread houses, and it also acts as the funding for philanthropic projects such as Operation School Bell, in which Wichita public schoolchildren in need are provided with clothing, scholarships, sexual abuse survivor kits, and “bear hugs” – teddy bears for children who have been sexually abused.

“We are a complete volunteer organization,” said Barb Fuller, one of this year’s event co-chairs.

Although it is too soon to determine how much money has been raised, Fuller said, “this year is looking very successful.”

It helped that this year’s location was bigger and had more tables.

In years past, there used to be long lines of children and parents waiting to get in. This year the wait was cut down, Fuller said.

Hundreds of volunteers are needed to shop for supplies, sort them and even saw tiny wood blocks that the children use to make foundations for their houses.

Orless O’Neal was one of those volunteers on Sunday. For the past 14 years he has sawed tiny blocks so children can smear frosting on them to help hold their graham cracker walls in place.

The reason he does it?

“I am married to a woman that is in the Assistance League,” he said.

“He’s a gem,” Fuller said.

Planning for the next year’s Gingerbread Village was expected to start soon after the weekend was over.