The results of the Gingerbread Competition have been announced, and the winner is: the Hillsborough community. The fundraising contest registered 680 total votes and pulled in $3,200 for the Community Giving Fund’s Housing Assistance program.
The image of Yonder Southern Cocktails and Brew at 114 W. King St. was the Adult category winner. The creation was made and submitted by Maree McGaw, Jesse Mowles-Aring, Ray Mowles-Aring, Jeremy Currie and Paige McNeal.
The Youth/Family category winner was the Alexander-Dickson House at 150 E. King St., made and submitted by the Fowlkes Family.
The contest, which almost didn’t happen, came together in a hurry and ended up being extremely popular. “In terms of community success, it definitely was that,” said Erin Campbell, owner of Erin Campbell Creative, which was one of the key groups that made the competition happen. “We had a lot of really heartwarming and wonderful feedback from people who would just visit the gingerbread creations, from the merchants who participated, from the people who built them. Everybody just seemed to have a very fun time with the whole event.
Meighan Carmichael, a broker and Realtor in Hillsborough who is also a client and friend of Campbell’s, approached her to help pull off the contest.
“This was one of those situations you do when you’re a designer where you’re taught to say ‘yes’ to something and then figure out how to do it later,” Campbell said. “When Meighan and I got talking on a Friday before Thanksgiving, I said ‘Yes, let’s do this. Let’s make it a donation charity event! Let’s have a website. Do online voting. Do all these amazing things.’ Then over the next three weeks, we had to figure out how to make all of that actually happen. It was a whirlwind event. It was a little stressful, but a great learning experience. I’m so happy that the charity portion of it worked out as well as it did. We raised $3,200, which is huge.”
The money will go to the Community Giving Fund, which has seen its housing assistance funds depleted by COVID-19.
“I spoke with Emily Sutton (director of the Community Giving Fund) and she was just blown away,” Campbell added. “She said they were at the bottom of the barrel for their donations this past year, and her staff wasn’t sure how they were going to continue being able to help people the way they have become accustomed. She was so excited to tell them and this was going to make such a big difference.”
Participating downtown businesses donated space in storefront windows for the displays to be set up and the gingerbread creations to be placed. Getting each of the displays built and to the businesses proved to be an exhilarating task.
“Meighan and her mother did so much work to get the displays together,” Campbell said. “I think they went around to every Dollar General and hardware store buying up all the snowflakes and twinkle lights they could. They wanted to make sure all of the displays were the same so that everyone had an even footing for judging and having everybody look at it. It’s not fair if somebody has a dimly lit window and someone has musical animals and things spinning around. That was really important. And they did such a great job pulling it off. I think there was something like 60 hours straight where they were just building and installing displays and finding more supplies. It was the epitome of a fantastic community event that I was happy to be a part of. Meighan and I had a great time.”
And so did the businesses. “The businesses that participated did so with enthusiasm, which I wasn’t expecting,” she said. “I thought we might have to call in some favors to get enough spaces. Everyone who we talked to, we said if they wanted to participate we would put a display in their window. They were, like, “oh, this is great! Absolutely!” They were just over the moon and they helped us with everything we needed. We had to get in their way in the middle of the business day to put in the displays.”
Campbell also gave high praise to Victor Rocha and Peter Grandstaff, the founders of 2Rock Software, which created the websites for the competition.
“The guys at 2Rock put together the voting website over a weekend, basically a Saturday and Sunday morning,” she said. “They got the whole website built from scratch. The voting mechanism was complicated. How do you let people vote? How do you make sure they’re only voting one time and log the votes. That’s one of those things as a designer and a frontend designer I don’t think about the complicated aspects of it that much. I rely on someone much smarter than me to make it work, and 2Rock absolutely did that. They said they were really proud of what they did this year and are excited for next year to do something even more powerful.”
With such a successful and buzz-generating event, Campbell said she and the other organizers are already thinking about the 2021 version of the Gingerbread Competition.
“I am anticipating having even more entries,” Campbell said. “This year, having 23 entries with what I thought was very little communication and effort to get the word out and get people signed up was huge. There was a lot of buzz about people wanting to do it. We might even have to limit the number of entries next year. I’m thinking, ‘What if we get 50 entries? Where are we going to put 50 displays downtown?’ But we definitely want more and want to make the walking tour larger and have them in more businesses. It means a lot to a small business, and just getting that foot traffic at that time of year is big. Having people wander around places they maybe wouldn’t have walked past. We’re trying to extend engagement to businesses that are on the edge of downtown. Let people see there’s more and more stuff in Hillsborough.”