Sara Montoya was struggling to photograph her firstborn daughter, 8 ½ month-old Mary Jane, who was busy admiring the birds outside of their Fresno, Calif. home — yet it was one of her images that would win the 2012 Gerber Generation Photo Searchon Facebook.

“We actually heard about the contest through a friend and when we decided to enter, it happened to be on the very last day of the entry,” says Sara. “We actually made it in about the last couple of hours before it closed.”

The photo search attracted over 300,000 contestants during the six-week entry period this year. Parents throughout the country were hoping their child would ultimately represent America’s largest baby food producer. The grand prize is $50,000, as well as ad placement for Gerber in 2013. A panel of Gerber judges reviewed the numerous entries, ranging from birth to preschool age.

“We are contacted everyday by moms and dads who ask the same question, ‘My baby looks just like the Gerber Baby, how do I get them into your advertising?’” said Cathy Abramski, Gerber’s Head of Consumer Communications, in an official statement. “By hosting Photo Search on the Gerber Facebook page, we are providing our fans with the opportunity to see their child in future Gerber advertisements. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The Montoya family never expected their baby would become the winner.

“We weren’t sure if we had won because we didn’t hear anything,” explains Mary Jane’s father, Billy. “Sara called me at work one day and kept saying, ‘We won!’ I just couldn’t believe it. I was in disbelief. To be honest, we just entered the contest and didn’t think about winning. So we weren’t looking at the rules or anything like that.”

The Montoya family also had the opportunity to meet 85-year-old Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby. Like Montoya, the 1927 sketch of Cook as an infant was submitted in a nationwide contest. Cook won, making her the first Gerber baby in 1928. Then in 1931, the portrait was trademarked. Cook has publicity approved Montoya as the new Gerber baby.

“She was such a sweet person,” says Billy on meeting Cook. “She was supper kind to MJ. It was good to see the face and match it up with the icon. She still looks the same way. She still has those cheeks and that twinkle in her eyes. She was just so delightful. We were starstruck. I never met anyone that famous.”

“She told us how the portrait was made and how the artist did a wonderful job drawing her, capturing everything about her and being a baby, that Gerber baby spirit,” says Sara.

“And I guess that’s what Gerber also saw in MJ’s picture,” adds Billy.

While Mary Jane will not be replacing the original Gerber baby, the family does hope that her image will raise more awareness on the brand to other Latino families. The parents also plans on putting the cash prize into her college fund.

“I’m in the process right now of trying to get my Bachelor’s, which I find so hard,” says Billy. “I started going to school in 1998 and I’m getting ready to finish up this year. It’s taken me so long to finish because of the costs of school and having to work full-time, but I know how beneficial it is to go to school."

"I’m almost done with school and I can already see how much it has benefited me and how financially I’ll be able to continue supporting my family," he adds. "I struggled. And now MJ won’t have to struggle.”

You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco

 

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