The smell of sugar, gumballs and cinnamon filled Memorial Hall on Saturday, where thousands of Reno County residents visited the historic site to decorate gingerbread houses for the holiday season.
Hutch Rec’s annual gingerbread house decorating event has partnered with nearly 10 community partners to make 1,230 prefabricated gingerbread houses and 70 gallons of icing made from 350 pounds of sugar in powder, 48 pounds of meringue and “lots of water,” Hutch Rec director of community events said Jeff Johnson.
A gift for the community
Everyone who walked through the doors of Memorial Hall was able to enjoy live music, gingerbread house decor, a small slide, interactive games, a horse-drawn carriage ride, and a free tour with Mr. and Mrs. Claus as a gift to the Hutchinson community.
“This is our gift to the community; we are hosting this event to thank everyone for supporting all of our programs this year,” Johnson said.
Johnson said coordinating the event each year is a joy, and over the past five years he has worked with the community to create the holiday giveaway.
Hutchinson Middle School used its large industrial mixers to create the 70 gallons of icing needed for the event, which community members visited throughout the week to help mix the icing and build bread houses spice.
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“We’re starting by reaching out to the groups that have always been a part of this, and this year in particular our volunteers helped put together all the supplies we needed,” Johnson said.
A holiday tradition
Some residents of Reno County have a tradition of creating gingerbread houses at Memorial Hall each holiday season. This is the case with Kylie Willis and her family.
Willis’ daughter Scarlet, 8, said her favorite part of decorating gingerbread houses was the chance to munch on gumballs during the process and ask Santa for his Christmas wish, a Giant Pop It! restless toy.
“We’ve always loved this event; it’s kind of a family tradition since Scarlet was born,” said Willis. “We are now bringing the whole family together to celebrate Christmas.”
Jade Piros de Carvalho and her daughter, Athena, 4, visited the event for the second time after attending in 2019 and appreciated the volunteer work and fun that all participants get from the event.
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Athena said she asked Santa for “great gifts” this year and that she loved to munch on barley sugars given by Mrs Claus.
“I mean, it’s really amazing,” Carvalho said. “The amount of volunteer effort that goes into putting all these little houses together so they can decorate them. I love it, and I feel like it’s iconic of how awesome Hutchinson is.”
Those who set and cleaned the six long tables all volunteered their time for the event, members of Wichita GEAR UP, a pre-college prep program for foster children, volunteers from Rise Up Reno and more from the Hutchinson School District.
Wichita GEAR UP volunteered with 15 foster family children from Reno County to donate their time to the event. Racquel Houston, access advisor at the University of Wichita GEAR UP, said bringing the children she works with each year brings them joy.
“They love to work with little kids and see how excited they get about a simple thing,” Houston said.
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Houston said Wichita GEAR UP works with foster children to prepare them for college and life after school, helping them with their social skills and education, and introducing them to volunteer work at within their communities.
Rise Up Reno brought in six volunteers to help with the event. This year, they gave out icing and candy.
Daja Phillips, Youth Prevention Coordinator for Rise Up Reno, said getting students to volunteer each year is exciting because most of them put themselves in character by dressing in outfits on the Christmas theme and helping at Santa’s workshop. This year’s event attracted over 1,000 attendees from Reno County.