Bright Side Feature Stories

Award-Winning Sand Castle Artisan Provides Creative Kickoff to Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser at ShopRite of West

New six-foot build will remain in store to inspire everyday crafters in competitive fundraiser.

Award-winning sand sculptors, husband and wife team of John Gowdy and Laura Cimador, stand proudly alongside their sand replica of the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey in ShopRite of West Berlin. Their two-day, live build kickstarted a summer sand castle contest to raise money for the RMHSNJ. Pictured, from left, are: Brian Walsh, community outreach coordinator for RMHSNJ; George Veit, store manager of ShopRite of West Berlin; John Gowdy; Laura Cimador; and Vince Squillacioti, assistant store manager of ShopRite of West Berlin (Image provided).

West Berlin, N.J. – A bit of the Jersey shore made its way into an aisle of ShopRite of West Berlin, capturing the attention and amazement of customers. Standing at 6 feet tall, a detailed sand replica of the Ronald McDonald House in Camden is now a centerpiece of the store, created onsite earlier this week by renowned artist John Gowdy and wife, Laura Cimador. The two-day build and finished structure are part of an effort to inspire a friendly sand castle competition that will raise money for the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey (RMHSNJ) this summer.

The replica, made of approximately 400 pounds of sand, will remain at ShopRite of West Berlin under plexiglass through Sept. 8. Gowdy has used sand to express himself ever since he was a child, so he hopes to inspire others to unleash their creativity through the RMHSNJ summer sand castle fundraiser.

To enter, team leaders for five or fewer people pay $30, and leaders of six or more people pay $60.

Register at Each team will submit a photo of its creation, with a 12-inch ruler next to it for size reference. All teams and creations must sport a creative name. 

Entries are due by Aug. 31. 

Zallie-Somerset Stores, owners of ShopRite of West Berlin and 10 other stores in the area, has an ongoing, supportive relationship with RMHSNJ; owner David Zallie is on the Board of Trustees. In addition to hosting this event, the company has donated funds and products, and its employees have served dinner at the House. This sand castle contest will help replace revenue that would have come from events that were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zallie-Somerset Stores owner David Zallie said ShopRite was excited to host the event. “An event like this brings joy to families during a very challenging time in our world,” he said. “The West Berlin ShopRite is thrilled to support a positive cause while providing its customers a safe and fun opportunity to smile.”

Giuliana Zallie, director of marketing and wellness, shared how this event is an opportunity to reinforce the commitment of Zallie-Somerset Stores to its communities. “The pandemic has put much of our focus on serving the community through our response to customers’ shopping needs and experiences, but we know that many of the nonprofits we support also need our help. This sand castle build and competition is a creative way to run a safe, larger-scale fundraiser, and we look forward to thinking outside of the box in the coming months to continue our support of organizations that play important roles in the community.”

Gowdy and Cimador worked together over two days, July 20 and 21, to build the Ronald McDonald House replica, while RMHSNJ representatives helped educate customers passing by about the sand castle contest. Prizes to be awarded on Labor Day include the best sand castle for teams under 12 years old, the best sand castle for teams over 12 years old, the largest sand castle, the tiniest sand castle, and the sand castle with the best name.

Gowdy was born in Atlantic City, where he served with the Atlantic City Fire Department for 27 years. After living in northeastern Italy for the last 10 years, he and Cimador moved to their current residence in Galloway, N.J., with their two sons, Ludovico and Filippo. Since placing third in his first competition in 1992, Gowdy has won the North American, International and World Championships of Sand Sculpture, along with many other competitions. Working closely with his wife as a team, the pair’s masterful works come from decades of practice painting and sculpting with various materials, and many of their creations can be seen on their website,

About Zallie-Somerset Stores

Zallie-Somerset Stores, branded as Zallie’s Fresh Kitchen, is the regional collection of ShopRite stores in Medford, Lawnside, Gibbstown, West Berlin, West Deptford, Williamstown, Chews Landing, Laurel Hill, Glassboro and Sicklerville, all in southern New Jersey, and Knorr Street in Philadelphia. ShopRite stores are independently owned and operated as part of the Wakefern Food Corp. Cooperative.

About Ronald McDonald House Southern New Jersey

RMHSNJ is one of more than 350 Houses around the world that offer hope, help and home to critically ill children and their families. For over 37 years, RMHSNJ has been a “home away from home” for more than 29,000 families whose children are receiving life-saving treatments for critical illnesses and traumatic injuries.

Each year, approximately 700 families hail from many foreign countries and every state in the U.S. Located in the heart of Camden, RMHSNJ is staffed 24 hours a day with a small staff and hundreds of volunteers. The house has 25 spacious bedroom suites, each with a unique theme such as Animal Friends, Sesame Street, Harry Potter and the Phillies. RMHSNJ also operates eleven Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in Southern New Jersey hospitals with large pediatric units. For more information on RMHSNJ, go to

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