Every year, I marvel at the creativity and competitive spirit that goes into the Pinellas gingerbread event to benefit the American Red Cross chapters in Tampa Bay.
I had to miss the fun this time, but elves who did attend report a bigger crowd — more than 200 — in the Grand Ballroom at the Don CeSar Resort in St. Pete Beach.
Participants get brunch, but that often is fuel for the energy put into decorating gingerbread houses supplied by the kitchens at the Don. Executive chef Eric Neri and his staff paraded huge bowls of icing to the tables, which were laden with candies supplied by Wal-Mart and supplemented by the hotel.
When the frosting and licorice and peppermint sticks settled, the winners' list included Adrian Anderson, Best in Show with her Phantom of the Opera-themed manse; Debbie Barcelona, Most Futuristic, "Shuttle Rocket Takeoff"; Pasadena Wives Club, Best Theme, "The Bugs"; Davina Gould, Most Traditional, "Real Candy"; Katherine Franckle, Most Fun, "Penguin Spa Time"; Darby Dickerson, Original House, "Ho, Ho, Ho"; Valentina Escobar, Best Sports, "Go Gators"; and Barbara Zaccaria, People's Choice, "Hunting Campground." Two teams won additional awards for a "Candy Condo" deemed Sweetest House, and for "Feeling Fruity," a runner-up.
Karol Bullard and Mary Critchfield are the longtime co-chairs of the event, and Tampa Bay Rays senior adviser Dick Crippen volunteers as the master of ceremonies. Ronay was a key sponsor.
Historic Old Northeast neighbors Bill Moore and Amanda Taylor love to entertain. Instead of having individual holiday parties this year, they combined resources, obtained a city permit, rented a tent, and blocked off part of St. Petersburg's 16th Avenue NE, inviting friends and neighbors to their block party.
Moore, who is retired from the St. Petersburg Fire Department, and Taylor, a lawyer with Trenam Kemker, supplied the grill, food and soft drinks; guests brought harder stuff if they wanted, and about 100 partygoers filled the area between 5 and 9 p.m.
"Times are hard," Moore said, recalling the get-together. "We're blessed with having some means. It was great for people to get together and have food."
Members of the GFWC St. Petersburg Woman's Club made donations to seven area charitable organizations at their annual Jinglefest Christmas luncheon. Beneficiaries are Big Cat Rescue, the Christmas Toy Shop, Help A Child, R Club, Resurrection House, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and the SPCA.
The women also brought new toys to give to the Christmas Toy Shop.
Judy Zamanillo and Joanne Walker were co-chairwomen for the event, which featured a performance by St. Petersburg High School's Pitchforks, led by choral director David Lawhead.
The club's Saturday group sponsored its annual cookie exchange the next day, filling baskets with cookies for Ronald McDonald House.