Five-year-old Oliver Lewis (left) and his grandmother Tillie Lewis give each other a loving smile as they decorate a gingerbread house for Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity’s 11th annual Gingerbread Build ‘a wonderful time’

David Lewis started volunteering at Habitat for Humanity about five years after a chance encounter.

Today he works on the charity’s salvage crew, taking out kitchens and bathrooms to supply ReStore, the organization’s retail arm.

“It was a long story, but I bumped into a friend of mine several years ago and asked him what he was doing,” Lewis said. “He told me he was involved in (Habitat for Humanity) and I said, ‘That sounds like a great idea,’ and I just took it from there.”

David Lewis, standing, helps his grandchildren build a gingerbread house at Habitat for Humanity's annual Gingerbread Build on Dec. 8.
David Lewis, standing, helps his grandchildren build a gingerbread house at Habitat for Humanity’s annual Gingerbread Build on Dec. 8. (Tamar Atik/Scarborough Observer)

On the morning of Dec. 8, a Sunday, he gave his grandchildren a taste of what it’s like to make a difference. The 77-year-old was at the Gingerbread Build with his wife Tillie and grandchildren Oliver, 5, and Amelia, 3.

“It’s a wonderful time, decorating a gingerbread house with our two grandchildren,” Tillie said. “They’re eating more candy (than decorating), but we keep buying it, so that’s fine,” she said, laughing.

“We’d bought (gingerbread houses) before and done them at home,” Tillie said.

But this year, the family decided to try continuing the tradition in a different way. And, they said, they liked it.

Tillie Lewis, in red, and her grandson Oliver, 5, decorating their gingerbread house.
Tillie Lewis, in red, and her grandson Oliver, 5, decorating their gingerbread house. (Tamar Atik/Scarborough Observer)

“It’s just magical to do something with your grandchildren. Aren’t gingerbread houses traditional with Christmas?” Tillie said. “I think it’s great. And the stuff they provide is wonderful. Can’t ask for a better event.”

It’s rewarding to see families and volunteers come together in this way for the holidays, said Sally Ding, events officer at Habitat for Humanity Toronto.

Habitat for Humanity Toronto events officer Sally Ding poses with Santa Claus at the charity's 11th annual Gingerbread Build on Dec. 8.
Habitat for Humanity Toronto events officer Sally Ding poses with Santa Claus at the charity’s 11th annual Gingerbread Build on Dec. 8. (Tamar Atik/Scarborough Observer)

“The Gingerbread Build is all about bringing families together,” Ding said. “This idea came to us because, on our build site, for people to volunteer, you have to be over 16 years old.”

So Habitat saw it as a good opportunity to involve children in the volunteering process, all while having fun, she said.

“That way it’s symbolic because they learn about the meaning of home and the concept of building a home for another family,” Ding said.

(From left to right) Eliza Zazhariah, Madeleine Forbes, Calder Forbes and Huge Zachariah at the 11th annual Gingerbread Build organized by Habitat for Humanity.
From left: Eliza Zazhariah, Madeleine Forbes, Calder Forbes and Huge Zachariah at the 11th annual Gingerbread Build organized by Habitat for Humanity. (Tamar Atik/Scarborough Observer)

Participating in the event is simple, she said.

“(Children) come out and their family pays a donation to the organization, which helps us to fundraise for our home-building efforts, and they have a great time with their family during the holiday season,” Ding said. “If you don’t have kids, another way to make an impact is to purchase a kit for a family in a shelter.

“We’ve partnered up with the Redwood shelter this year. All the kits purchased on their behalf, we’ll be delivering them with special messages from the families who made the donation.”

David Lewis adds piping to the gingerbread house his wife and grandchildren designed at Habitat for Humanity's 11th annual Gingerbread Build.
David Lewis adds piping to the gingerbread house his wife and grandchildren designed at Habitat for Humanity’s 11th annual Gingerbread Build. (Tamar Atik/Scarborough Observer)

David said he loves doing things for the cause.

“I’ve spent enough of my life sitting around boardroom tables and discussing things,” he said. “I’m a great believer in (Habitat for Humanity), being a volunteer and supporting this for about five or six years now.”

And Tillie agreed.

“The idea of doing gingerbread houses is just absolutely unique,” she said.

Last year’s event raised almost $40,000 and Ding said the organization is aiming to exceed $60,000 this year.