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Gingerbread house challenge kicks off Christmas community initiative

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Christmas Bureau

Christmas was in the air at Edmonton City Hall Monday morning.

As bare gingerbread houses sat on tabletops in the City Room, teams filed in, prepared to go head-to-head in a gingerbread house decorating competition.

“This is a fun way to challenge these folks and get the Christmas season rolling,” said emcee and City Councillor Scott McKeen.

Celebrating the Christmas Bureau’s 75th anniversary campaign, the gingerbread house–building contest has been a 20-year plus tradition to help kickoff the community initiative.

“Today was our launch of our 75th anniversary campaign and we invited the media to have a friendly competition with building gingerbread houses,” said Darlene Kowalchuk, Campaign Director for the Christmas Bureau.

“Sometimes it gets a little more competitive than friendly.”

The competition was in full swing, with the Oilers Ladies present as not only one of the participating groups, but as honorary co-chairs.

“The Oilers Ladies have been the honorary co-chairs alongside Kevin Lowe for the Christmas Bureau since 2003,” said Lauren Rodych, one of the Oilers Ladies.

“It’s exciting to be part of it again this year, this is the 75th year for the Christmas Bureau. Today we participated in the Christmas Bureau gingerbread competition and made a farewell rink and house out of gingerbread.”

In an attempt to top last year’s hockey rink with gingerbread men–inspired players, the group executed a grander display.

“We wanted to do something bigger and more outrageous this year so Kelly Talbot actually came up with the idea that we should make it a farewell theme because it’s the Farewell to Rexall Place this year,” said Rodych.

“ Kelly ordered a Zamboni gingerbread house and Jessica Klinkhammer made a ginormous rink — she baked it from scratch — and then Kelly made some cookie jerseys and we had (simulated) the banners that hang up in the rink. It was a team effort that everyone came together on.”

According to Kowalchuk, there are many families that are under greater amounts of stress due to tough economic times this year.

“They want to keep some kind of normalcy for their family…. What we do is we help those families give Christmas to their children, to their families, so that it’s a normal thing that everyone else gets.”

Photo by Christmas Bureau

Since 1940, the Christmas Bureau has maintained one tradition — providing a festive meal to Edmontonians in need at Christmas time through the promotion of the spirit of Christmas, caring and sharing in the City of Edmonton.

“The Christmas Bureau has been a poignant flag here in Edmonton for over 75 years and this year I think this initiative is very critical,” said MLA David Shepherd.

“With the tough economic times we’re facing as a province, the Christmas Bureau is expecting that more families are going to need help over the holidays, so it’s even more important now than ever that we encourage people to give this holiday season.”

It’s anticipated that there will be a 12 per cent increase in need this season, as more families may not be able to have food on their table without the support of the community.

“More than 100,000 Edmontonians live in poverty and about 30,000 of those are children,” said McKeen. “The challenge is significant and we know that by investing in solutions we'll see a positive social outcome.”

Each year, the Christmas Bureau has come together as a community to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to celebrate as a family at this time of year.

By raising funds throughout the community, the Christmas Bureau is able to provide festive meals at Christmas time to Edmonton families, individuals and seniors in need, while also distributing a gift program to teens aged 13 to17 years.

“The community can donate online at and starting December 4 we will be in various malls throughout Edmonton where they’ll be able to stop by one of our donation tables and make a donation there,” said Kowalchuk.

“They can do a fundraiser within their offices or within their families. What a lot of offices and families will do, instead of exchanging gifts, will say whatever we would have spent,we’ll put it in a pot and give it to the Christmas Bureau. We do accept donations all year round but November and December are our busiest times because that’s when everybody gets in the Christmas spirit.”

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