Joseph Martin Elementary School won the People’s Choice and Overall Winner awards Wednesday in a gingerbread-house competition hosted by the LaQuinta Inn and Suites in Flemington and the Hinesville Rotary Club.
The first-ever Rotary Club Gingerbread House Competition included 13 entries from Liberty County schools, said Brigitte Shanken, Rotary Club vice president and chairwoman of the Georgia Association of Realtors. Shanken said the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce was helpful with organizing the event, but the idea to do the competition came from LaQuinta owner Hasit Patel. She then worked with Patel to develop the concept and make the competition happen.
“I said I wanted to have a gingerbread house competition here at the motel after I saw one at the Westin (Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa),” Patel said. “Brigitte and my general manager, Lisette Vila, put it together. They went around to the schools, asking them to participate. (Superintendent) Dr. (Valya) Lee was a tremendous help, too, because she pushed participation.”
Patel said he hopes to start the competition much earlier next year to increase participation and allow schools more time to prepare. He said officials at First Presbyterian Christian Academy already are excited about participating next year.
This year’s entries were on display in the LaQuinta’s main lobby Dec. 9-18. The theme for the competition was red, white and blue. Motel guests and county residents were invited to vote for their favorites for the People’s Choice award. According to Shanken, Joseph Elementary got 79 votes. She said although Button Gwinnett got more votes from the five competition judges, it received only 52 votes in the People’s Choice category.
BGE’s overall average was 150 points compared with Joseph Martin’s 172-point overall average. Shaken said Lewis Frasier Middle School won the middle-school category, and Bradwell Institute won the high-school category.
“I think it went very well,” Shanken said. “It set a precedent for future competitions.”
Before the judges arrived, Don and Pat Snelsire already were counting the People’s Choice ballots with help from Patel’s wife, Nital. Their 4-year-old daughter, Mahi, supervised the process.
The judges included Col. Kevin Gregory, garrison commander for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield; Jeff Davis, owner of Jeff’s Confection and Bake Shop; Jennifer Buehler, senior accounts executive for commercial accounts with VIP Office Furniture and Supply; Jeff Ricketson, executive director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission; and Leah Poole, CEO of the Liberty Country Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As they looked over each entry, scoring it for various criteria, a couple judges joked that it would be nice to be able to taste some of the displays.
Joseph Martin Elementary Assistant Principal Dr. Brittney Mobley said she was thrilled to receive the People’s Choice and Overall Winner awards from Patel, who distributed the prizes to each winning school Thursday morning. She said students from kindergarten through sixth grade participated in the gingerbread-house project but admitted that students in fourth through sixth grades did the intricate detail work, like securing Chex cereal squares as shingles on the roof of their manger display.
“We (also) had a wonderful group of parent volunteers who assisted and monitored (the project) in the school cafeteria,” Mobley said. “Our students had a wonderful time putting it together.”