Potato pilers

Collaborating with Jack’s Country Store, Beach Barons take turns bagging potatoes for this year’s second giveaway.

Three times the need

Last Saturday, the holiday season got off to one of the “giving-est” starts I’ve ever seen. In Jack’s adjacent parking lot, the Beach Barons bagged potatoes for giveaway. Piles and piles of them were loaded onto pallets and handed out to whomever stopped by. It was the second potato-giveaway of the year.

And just half a block away, the Ocean Park division of Pacific County Fire District No. 1 had their annual Christmas toy shop, which spilled over from the community room into the truck bay. Lani Karvia, in charge of this and other community service projects, said, “We’ve had three times the amount of toys donated this year, but then there is three times the need.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many goodies for kids in one place that wasn’t a Toys”R”Us store: toys stuffed and wheeled and boxed, dozens of bicycles, puzzles, dolls, teddy bears, penguins, bunnies, lamby-kins, little tool chests and cooking sets, games, Barbies, coloring books, art supplies, trains, stunt cars, shark cars, race cars, and — of course — fire trucks!

Stocking stuffers

The Stocking Stuffers — Carla McLeod, Nanci Main and Brian Davis — created customized socks to hang above the fireplace.


Rows of bicycles await smiling faces on Christmas morning.

At one long table Carla McLeod, Nanci Main and Brian Davis became personalized stocking stuffers as moms and dads came by to request things for their good little boys and girls. (Nikki Fortuna handmade 200 stockings!) “He likes dinosaurs? — here’s one right here!” I put a candy cane in my pocket for later.

Great Gingerbread House Bake-off

In my mind, the holiday season started last week when the neighbors around 195th-196th Place held their first Great Gingerbread House Bake-off. Instead of having the usual cookie exchange, head baker Voni DeBellis got the idea of gingerbread houses, and the word spread. “We have a great neighborhood here and usually we have a Christmas cookie party. All us neighbors just like hanging out together, so even with the pandemic we wanted to do something.” That “something” was quite an event — there were 10 whimsical edible houses representing hours and hours of work.

First prize gingerbread house

Voni DeBelis, the contest organizer, won a well-deserved first place for her creation.

Voni sings second alto with the Bayside Singers and sits next to Bette Lu Krause (when they’re not in the middle of a pandemic) so she asked Lu to be the judge. “I wanted a neutral opinion and Bette Lu said she’d come be our gingerbread judge, on her birthday no less. And she asked Nanci Main to help.”

Gingerbread group

The neighbors of 195th-196th Place (and judges Bette Lu Krause and Nanci Main) gathered to view the gingerbread houses and sip hot chocolate.

Naughty Santa

In the gingerbread house contest, an R-rated Santa doffs his hat. Second-place winner Cathy Tropple gave away her prize to participant Joan Wright.

There were prizes for the three top winners, though Voni obviously paid off the judges because her house won first place; when I took a closer look at it I could see why. It was so imaginatively decorated. “I built three walls, then inside I put a Christmas tree all decorated, little sugar cubes with frosting ribbons as gifts, a sucker on the floor for a rug, and two gingerbread people. Then I built the fourth wall and the roof. It was such fun!” The roof had dozens of snowcap candy “shakes” with white sprinkles. The whole creation took her about two weeks to complete.

There was also an X-rated gingerbread house with a misbehavin’ Santa made by Cathy Tropple, which won second place, but ‘nuf said about that! And there was one absolutely unique post-modern gingerbread house. I was marveling about how it stood out so distinctly from the others when one neighbor, said, pointing, “Well, just look up the street!” This innovative baker had replicated their own real house perfectly.

Gingerbread T House

The “T House” was a clever entry that replicated an actual house just down the street.

The real T House

The “T House” was a clever entry that replicated an actual house just down the street.

Be of good cheer

All in all, despite the constraints of the virus, I’d say our community is off to a good start this holiday week. However you and your family celebrate, whatever your traditions, and however far away you are from loved ones this year — it’s clear to me that joy and good cheer are alive and well on the Long Beach Peninsula.

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