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Lunch ladies' pumpkins take over VISD

By KBell
Oct. 29, 2011 at 5:29 a.m.

Oralia Lopez designed and built a "smart car" pumpkin for VISD's annual competition among cafeterias in the district. Lopez, kitchen manager at Torres Elementary, said she found parts of the pumpkin around her house and put them all together over about a day and a half.

PUMPKIN CONTEST WINNERS

First place: Torres Elementary's smart car

Second place: West High School's flamingo

Third place: Rowland Elementary's scarecrow

People's Choice: F.W. Gross Elementary's sundae

A flamingo took up residence in the Victoria school district's administration building this past week.

Also hanging out with VISD's central office folk were a turtle, a cowboy, a clown, mummy and just a few bats.

An ice cream sundae and plate of spaghetti tempted passing mouths, as employees and visitors probed the decadent details of the decorated pumpkins.

"This year they've surprised me again. They've gotten quite creative," said Dana Bigham, VISD's food service director.

She was talking about the kitchen crews in each of the VISD's cafeterias. For the past two decades, the lunch ladies have faced off in a pumpkin decorating contest to be judged by a panel of mystery judges.

"Every year it's more competitive," Oralia Lopez, kitchen manager at Torres Elementary School, said.

Lopez, who's been with the district for 16 years, was the first to admit she was up against some pretty intense pumpkin adversaries this year. She realized that when dropping off her pumpkin at the administration building, where she met her competition face-to-face.

"I talk to them, but not about my creations," a grinning Lopez said about her colleagues at other schools. "I don't want them to beat me. We never tell each other what we're making."

Lopez put as much love into creating her "smart car" pumpkin as she does school lunches. She earned first place this year.

From tiny pumpkins skewered together as wheels, to golden thread spools creating some flashy hubcaps, to a licorice bumper and Skittles headlights, Lopez overlooked no detail when making the pumpkin that would represent Torres Elementary.

A surfboard attached to the car's roof she cut out from the Styrofoam in a package of meat. The spoiler, too. Gum drops served as brake lights, and a former marble bag became the perfect grille.

"Then I put a Lincoln symbol on the front, and I took off my son's tires," she said, laughing.

She always makes sure to get the thumbs up from her three kids when it comes to her decorations, which Lopez said she's been doing for years.

Her husband, Daniel, also helps Lopez brainstorm, if not critique her creations.

Together, they came up with the car's Texas license plate, which reads "GT SMART."

Lopez said the opportunity to represent her school and get creative helps her stay sharp. She's already brainstorming ideas for the gingerbread house she will build to compete in another VISD contest at Christmas. Though she wouldn't reveal her plans.

"Just to be competitive - I said, if we don't keep our brain going, it'll stop functioning," she said.

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