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NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus Jessica Swietek of Peru decorates a gingerbread house Monday at Mark Allen’s American Kitchen in Peru. For a dollar, restaurant patrons can vote for their favorite house on display from mid-November to the end of the year. Proceeds will benefit Starved Rock Area Special Olympics Illinois.
Every year, Mark Allen’s American Kitchen in Peru chooses an organization as a fundraising recipient. This year, the chosen organization is Starved Rock Area Special Olympics Illinois.
Mark Allen’s owners Mark and Ann Weisbrod hosted eight Special Olympics athletes and a few volunteers in their restaurant on Monday, when Mark Allen’s is usually closed, to build and decorate gingerbread houses.
The gingerbread houses will be put on display in the restaurant from mid-November through the end of the year, according to Ann Weisbrod. For a dollar, patrons can vote for their favorite of the houses. All funds raised will go to the Starved Rock Area Special Olympics Illinois.
“We always look for some involvement (when choosing our benefit organization), and we thought this would be a fit,” Ann Weisbrod said. “It’s a win-win all over the place.”
Athletes like Tony Parker of La Salle got their creative juices flowing when decorating their houses with pretzel window panes, candy tiles and Christmas tree ice cream cones.
“It’s fun,” Parker said, adding that he wants his house to bring in $100 worth of donations. He said his favorite sport was bowling and that his highest score is 146. He came in third place in Saturday’s bowling competition in Rockford, according to area director Cheryl DePaepe.
“It was totally Ann and Mark’s idea to do this,” DePaepe said. Before Monday, the athletes had never participated in a holiday-themed project like this before, she said. “They’ve been having a ball … They were all excited about coming.”
Funds go toward helping the area’s more than 550 athletes participate in multiple competitions each year. This year’s events featured 14 different sports, DePaepe said.
DePaepe expressed thankfulness to Mark Allen’s for providing the gingerbread house materials and the space for the event.
“A big thanks to Mark and Ann for coming up with the idea and giving us the opportunity,” she said.