A local organization’s creative way to replace an annual holiday event thwarted by COVID-19 has won statewide recognition.

CASA of Eastern Oregon’s Gingerbread Tour in Baker City was named the outstanding promotion during the Oregon Main Street Excellence on Main awards, announced on Thursday, Oct. 7.

And it wasn’t the only local winner.

Tom Novak, a Baker City artist, was also awarded as a volunteer for his work with Baker City Downtown, the promotional group he has helped since 2017, including serving, with perfect attendance, on its design committee.

Baker City Downtown nominated both Novak and CASA of Eastern Oregon for their respective awards.

Gingerbread tour

CASA of Eastern Oregon, a nonprofit that helps represent the interests of children who are in state care, usually sponsors a holiday tour of some of Baker City’s historic homes.

But the pandemic prompted CASA to cancel the event in 2020.

As an alternative, CASA invited residents to create gingerbread structures.

And local artisans responded with 16 entries that went beyond the basic gingerbread house design that comes in a prepackaged kit.

Several entrants replicated historic homes and other buildings in Baker City. Another featured Anthony Lakes Ski Area.

The constructions were displayed in downtown businesses during December. The gingerbread tour was in conjunction with a scavenger hunt that brought people to downtown businesses for the holiday shopping season.

“Our Main Street programs work tirelessly to support local businesses and to improve how downtowns look, feel, and function,” said Sheri Stuart, state coordinator for Oregon Main Street. “But they also bring these districts to life through events and activities that build community and connect people to a part of their history and heritage. The Gingerbread Tour in Baker City is a wonderful example of this. It was a way to safely bring people together for a shared experience that united community.”

“None of this could have been accomplished without so many people coming together,” said Mary Collard, CASA executive director.

As of now, the tour of homes is postponed until 2022, but the gingerbread tour will happen again in 2021.

“We will have another gingerbread tour with the ‘Santa’s Village’ theme and can’t wait to get designers signed up to show their creativity,” Collard said.

Also returning are the porch decorating contest and children’s gingerbread house display. Check the CASA of Eastern Oregon Facebook page for updates, or visit www.casaeo.org.

Tom Novak

Novak, a longtime Baker City resident, was one of six volunteers statewide honored during the Excellence on Main awards.

Novak helped start the Baker City Blooms program to establish hanging flower pots on the light poles of five blocks on Main Street. He secured the funding and designed the brackets that are built by a local welder.

He has worked on other seasonal beautification efforts like a downtown scarecrow display contest, signage for Central Park, a walking map brochure for the African animal sidewalk art sculptures placed throughout the downtown district, and annual downtown clean up, among many other activities.

Novak was quick to share the recognition.

“I accept it on behalf of my fellow design committee volunteers,” he said on Friday morning, Oct. 8. “I was just one member of a crew of volunteers.”

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