Four-year-old Leah Palmerin sneaks a piece of Trix fruit cereal into her mouth as she decorates a gingerbread cookie. Next to her, Micaela Miramontes, 11, puts the finishing touches on her gingerbread Christmas tree, topping it with a red gumdrop.
The girls are sitting with their family inside Children’s Services Network’s Gingerbread Wonderland, a small shop nestled between GameStop and Hot Dog On A Stick in Sierra Vista Mall.
For the second year in a row, CSN has set up the holiday store to encourage local families to get out and create something together.
“We wanted an event that was extremely family friendly … we want to let people know about our services and also do what we stand for, which is getting families out of the house and doing things together,” said Jessica Shadrick, CSN’s early care and education services director. “It’s so nice for parents to do this with their children and talk to them and understand how their imaginations work and watch their motor skills develop … and make memories.”
Families can choose from small, medium and large gingerbread houses or gingerbread cookies to decorate with candies, treats and icing. A family pack of five gingerbread cookies costs $20.
Those who may not have the time to sit in the shop and decorate can take home a kit that includes gingerbread and 10 small baggies of toppings.
Some families spend 30 minutes to several hours inside Gingerbread Wonderland working on their creations.
“I tell them to pile it on,” said Caroline Wade, or “Chef Caroline” as she’s called in Gingerbread Wonderland. “Their parents may not like that, but I tell them the more they put on now, the more candy they’ll have to eat later!”
Wade, who runs her home bakery business, Caroline’s Creations, in Clovis, bakes all of the gingerbread and makes homemade frosting for use in the shop.
“Last night I spent seven hours baking,” she said on Monday, the third business day for Gingerbread Wonderland. “I’ve already made 14 batches of gingerbread and we’ve just started.”
But seeing the smiles on children’s faces make the long hours worth it.
“I enjoy working with the kids and seeing what they come up with,” Wade said, describing a particular cookie created by a young boy. “There was an arm coming straight out at you, and it had a hat and two eyes, and there was its (candy cane) smile ... And somewhere down there are feet.”
“Their interpretation is totally different from an adult’s,” Shadrick chimed in.
“It’s not just a cookie for them, it’s this whole experience,” Wade said.
Gingerbread Wonderland is open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. until the mall closes on weekends, through Sunday, Dec. 13.
On Dec. 12, a child size gingerbread playhouse with an estimated value of $10,000 will be raffled. The house was designed and built by TK Heinsleit Corporation with lumber donated by BMC Building Supplies and roofed by Minnick Roofing. The decorated house includes furniture and will be delivered to the winner’s home. It’s on display inside Sierra Vista Mall in front of Gingerbread Wonderland.
Raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20.
CSN’s goal is to break even each year through the Gingerbread Wonderland, and not necessarily make a profit, Shadrick said. DPS Telecom is the event’s major sponsor.
“Our goal is not so much financial gain, but to spread the awareness so that people know who we are,” she said.
Children’s Services Network is a child care resource and referral agency that works to provide early educational programs and services for parents and child care providers.
Shadrick said the agency may be known for its financial assistance for child care, licensing, fingerprinting and accreditation services, but it also offers much more to parents and children in the Central Valley.
“We have a toy lending library that has more than 6,000 toys and books available for any Fresno County parent to come and check out for free,” she said.