Woodlake Women Hold Annual Gingerbread Project
The Woodlake Women's Club kicked off its annual Gingerbread Project at its November meeting at the Oates House in Woodlake.
The committee, co-chaired by Jeanne Hunkele and Joan Nestvogel, distributed over 60 names of children to be granted their Christmas wishes by the Gingerbread elves at Vass-Lakeview School on Dec. 18.
The year was 1998 when the residents of the Woodlake Community, under the sponsorship of the Woodlake Women's Club and under the direction of Jeanne Hunkele as chairperson, decided to make Christmas special for some very needy children at the Vass-Lakeview School.
This project became identified as the Gingerbread Project, and the participants are known as the Gingerbread People. The school administrators and teaching staff agreed to identify those children in need, and to obtain the parents' permission to have their children participate in the project.
Some residents preferred to participate in the project by providing a monetary donation in lieu of gifting a child. It was decided not to use these donations toward the purchase of gifts and, as a result, the Gingerbread Fund was established.
Donna McClary, the current principal, has full authority of the use of the fund within the guidelines of the Gingerbread Fund. The guidelines permit the use of this fund for the benefit of all the children who attend the Vass-Lakeview School when the need arises. After 10 years, the project and the community participation continues to grow.
Each year two main goals are set: to make Christmas special for 60 children and to raise donations for the Gingerbread Fund. It begins with a meeting with the school principal to select a date in December to host a party for the children selected for the year's project.
After this meeting, 10 Gingerbread volunteers go to the school to interview the children one-on-one. At this time, the interviewers ask the children about their favorite colors, books they like to read, games they like to play, and what they like to do after school. They also measure their feet for shoe sizes, estimate the sizes of pants, shirts and sweaters, check to see if they have a winter coat and ask if they were given three wishes, what they would be. This information is recorded on the interview sheet. When Woodlake residents select a child, they are given this interview sheet to help them select the child's gifts. At the same time, donations for the Gingerbread Fund are solicited.
On the day of the school Christmas party, after the Woodlake Elves have delivered all the gifts to the school, the scene is set for the childrens' arrival. Each child has three gifts that are to be opened then, and several other gifts to take home for Christmas morning. This party is a joyful time, not only for the children but for all the adults who attend.
"Watching the reactions of the children, listening to the sounds of their laughter and seeing the expressions of their joy, brings home to all of us the true Christmas spirit," says a spokesman. "The net result of the volunteers' afternoon experience is the satisfaction of having provided a child with a special memory. Due to the word of mouth back in the community, the number of volunteers continues to grow. The success of this project is due to the dedication of the volunteers."
The first year of the Gingerbread Project, $510 was donated to the Gingerbread Fund. The total for 2007 was $3,389. The grand total for 10 years is $19,523.
"You wonder along the way if you make a lasting impression on any of these Gingerbread children and are delighted when you discover you have," says Jeanne Hunkele. "Last November, a local southern rock band, Short Notice, hosted an event to raise money for the Gingerbread Fund. The band played at Valenti's Restaurant in Vass and donated all proceeds to our project. They were able to raise $500 for the Gingerbread Project. One of the band members had been a Gingerbread child when his family was experiencing financial difficulties, and he remembered and decided to give back to the project."
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