Edible creations that help kids

November 24, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Mary Graul spent more than a week cutting and fitting pieces for a 2 1/2 -foot-tall replica of a Chesapeake Bay lighthouse. She fashioned railings, windows, stairs, doors and a flashing light.

And just about everything is edible.

The lighthouse is one of more than 300 items entered in design contests for this year's Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees, which opens a three-day run today at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. The trees, wreaths and gingerbread pieces are sold to help raise money for Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

The award-winning gingerbread creations from this year's competition include: a church that is lit inside, with stained glass windows, a steeple and a cemetery outside; a pink house that stands more than 20 feet tall; and a carousel.

Graul found out Wednesday that her latest entry - a replica of the century-old Baltimore Lighthouse, which is near the mouth of the Magothy River - had won in the Most Imaginative category.

The 65-year-old retired elementary school principal used gingerbread for the base, and licorice, ice cream cones, sugar cubes, icing, cinnamon candies, M&M's, peppermints and gumballs to complete the look. And she made sure the piece was structurally sound.

"This gingerbread lighthouse has been an engineering feat," she said.

The Festival of Trees, which was established in 1989, is the largest fundraiser for Kennedy Krieger, which cares for and educates children with developmental disabilities. Organizers say more than 35,000 visitors come out to browse the crafts and enjoy the activities.

This year's edition includes a silent auction for such prizes as a cruise to the Bahamas and VIP tickets to The View television program, along with tickets for air travel and sporting events. Also on the schedule are musical and comedy performances, salsa lessons, a clinic with Ravens kicker Matt Stover, and book readings with Stover and running back Jamal Lewis.

Stover said many aspects of the event appeal to him, but mostly it's being a father that has him devoted to the project.

"The main reason is that having children of my own really impacted my empathy for families of children with special needs," Stover said. "The ability to have this resource not only in this community but for the entire country - how could I not support them?"

For Graul, supporting the festivities is all about helping people, she said. She started with the event about 14 years ago when her husband, Harold Graul, whose grandfather founded the supermarket chain that bears the family name, received a letter from Kennedy Krieger asking for gingerbread creations, she said.

"I had no experience at all," she said. "But I thought it was for a good cause. So I went down to the store, and my stepdaughter Kate and daughter-in-law Dorothy helped me design something."

Since then, Graul's designs, submitted on behalf of the supermarket chain, have sold for $250 to $450, and have included replicas of Port Discovery, the Constellation, Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, Fort McHenry, the National Aquarium and the B&O Railroad Museum.

Her biggest obstacle each year is figuring out how to make her gingerbread concoctions structurally sound, she said. "One year, I had to put a box of cereal inside a house to hold up the roof," she said. "And the lighthouse I'm doing this year has foam on the back of the gingerbread to make the walls sturdy."

Once she learned to use the bagged icing, she moved the decorating to her home.

"The bakeries in the stores are too busy this time of the year, so I just do it here to stay out of the way," she said.

The foundation of the Baltimore Lighthouse replica is gingerbread dough from the Graul's store in Ruxton. She made a Christmas tree with the lower part of a sugar cone and presents with plain white sugar cubes.

"For the tree, I just turned the cone over and used icing to make it look like a tree," she said. "Then I used icing to make bows on the sugar cubes."

She made the railing with black licorice and holly boughs with green icing and red cinnamon candies.

"It's become a tradition," she added. "Every year, I call the store bakery and say, `Guess what time it is?' and they say, `Yep! We'll get your dough ready.'"

Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees

When: Tomorrow through Sunday

Where: Maryland State Fairgrounds on York Road in Timonium

Time: Tomorrow and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cost: Adults $10; seniors and children ages 5-12, $5; children ages 4 and younger, free.

Tickets purchased online cost $8 for adults and $4 for seniors and children.

Information: www.KennedyKrieger.org

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