Carefully piping royal icing and sprinkling sanding sugar onto a handmade gingerbread house, employees of the JeannieBird Baking Co. in Westminster put the final touches on their entry for the inaugural Gingerbread Village Festival last week.

About 30 gingerbread houses were put on display Friday, Nov. 13, in the Sears Court of the TownMall of Westminster, where they will remain until Nov. 28. The festival is sponsored by the Westminster Church of the Brethren to recognize National Homelessness Awareness Week. All proceeds benefit the poverty fighting programs of Human Services Programs of Carroll County.

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"We're hoping to bring awareness of homelessness in Carroll County," said Stephanie Averett, HSP's volunteer and special projects coordinator. "Not only do we have five homeless shelters, we have two housing programs. The problems of homelessness are varied — everything from mental illness to domestic violence. We try to come at it with a multipronged approach."

Averett said the festival will be similar to the Carroll County Arts Council's PEEPshow, during which visitors can vote on their favorite houses. There will also be raffles for a playhouse and a doghouse.

"The top vote-getter will receive $150 and the judge's favorite will win $150," Averett said.

Placing votes for her favorites Friday, Pat Ecker said she appreciated the builders' creativity.

"The way they're designed is so creative. I think they're all fabulous and very unique," said Ecker, of Westminster.

Laurie Fertitta, of Westminster, was strolling TownMall and stopped to check out the gingerbread village.

"They're just so pretty," Fertitta said. "It must take a lot of patience."

Kathy Miller, of Sykesville, explored the village with her children Corinne, 9, and Robby, 7.

"They're really awesome," said Robby. "They look real."

Sharon Lange, of Eldersburg, examined the details of the village with her daughter Summer, 5.

"They make me feel bad about my artistic abilities," Lange said. "I think it's amazing. They used everyday materials and made such wonderful houses."

Nancy McCrickard, Westminster Church of the Brethren's community spirit coordinator, said she came up with the idea for the festival while volunteering at HSP's cold weather shelter.

"I wanted to bring attention to people who don't have a home," she said. "People of all ages are participating, and they are getting a conversation started about homelessness."

JeannieBird Baking Co. owner Jeannie Vogel said her staff was excited to participate in the festival. Vogel, who was formerly a public health nurse, said the bakery also donates baked goods to shelters and hosts guest baristas on Saturdays, during which community agency representatives pour coffee and get the word out about their organizations.

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"We try to get involved as much as we can with the community," Vogel said.

Employees Jen Holz, Najee Banks, Hannah Barnes and Addi Kachur formed the bakery's gingerbread team.

"It was a nice team bonding experience and good advertisement for us," said Holz.

Banks explained the construction of the gingerbread house took about 11 hours.

"We decided to make a birdhouse bakery," Banks said. "There are two little love birds on the front that represent Jeannie and her husband. There's battery-operated lights and snow everywhere."

Banks said he hopes the amount of money made during the festival would be substantial.

"We had no idea it would be so much work," Barnes said.

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If you go:

What: Gingerbread Village Festival

Where: Sears Court in the TownMall of Westminster

When: The festival runs through Nov. 28

Cost: Viewing is free; votes cost $1 for 1 vote, $5 for 10 votes, $10 for 25 votes, $20 for 75 votes, $50 for 200 votes.

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