(Photo: Bernadette Skipper)
Members of a church youth group in Viera, Fla., were gearing up for fall Wednesday evening as they unloaded 2,400 pumpkins onto the church lawn as part of a fundraiser to help them raise money for youth events.
About 80 students from High Tide Church at Viera's youth group, gathered with a handful of adult volunteers to unload a semi truck’s worth of the orange vegetables, which they will sell to the community to raise money for missions trips and youth camps.
In order to unload the truck, the youth, in grades seven through 12, passed the pumpkins one-by-one in “fireman's lines,” unloading them onto pallets – on loan from a local Home Depot – that were already sitting on the church lawn.
Karyn Honaker, the committee chairperson for the pumpkin sale, told The Christian Post Friday that the church usually sells about $30,000 in pumpkins, with $9,000 of it going directly to the students. Each year, she said, the church gets the pumpkins through a North Carolina-based organization called Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers.
PPF works with churches and other organizations by providing them a means of fundraising that is both fun and festive. Those who sell pumpkins through the PPF program keep a percentage of each sale and only have to pay PPF for the pumpkins that are sold, which means that even just one sale guarantees a profit.
“It's really a win-win for everybody, because for us it costs us nothing to do,” she said.
Church at Viera takes the profit from the sale and divides the money up for each student based on the number of hours they work in the patch. The money is kept in an account for that student, and is later distributed as needed to cover the cost of events.
The patch is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. While kids are at school, parents and adult volunteers operate everything. On the weekends, and after school lets out on weekdays, however, students take turns helping out in shifts.
Despite the large number of pumpkins the church already has, Honaker said they will get another shipment of 1,500 pumpkins in about two weeks and will probably sell out by Oct. 31.
The church has been doing the fundraiser for 11 years, eight of which Honaker has helped with it. In addition to the financial benefits, she said, it also draws a lot of attention to the church.
"It's a great community outreach. We have a ton of repeat customers that we've had for 11 years, but we get so many new people all the time too. And it gives us an opportunity to talk about the church … it's really awesome,” she said.
In spite of this year's well-documented pumpkin shortage on the east coast, which is partially the result Hurricane Irene's impact, Honaker says that the pumpkins they received from PPF are “bigger this year than they were last year, so they had no issues.”
One reason they look so good is because they weren't grown on the East Coast. PPF has an agreement with the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry to grow pumpkins on a Navajo reservation in Farmington, N.M.
After a different storm, Hurricane Hugo, destroyed PPF founder Richard Hamby's crop in 1989, the organization looked elsewhere for pumpkins and then decided to grow some out west.
PPF sets the prices of each pumpkin, which range in cost from 50 cents to $40. Though members of the community might be able to find cheaper ones at large chain stores, Honaker says that people come to their patch because “they love it ... it's an experience for the kids.”
The church even sends out information to local schools and preschools, inviting them to bring their students to the patch where they can play games, listen during story time and enjoy other fun activities.
“It's like the closest thing to a farm that most kids ever see,” she says.
The church doesn't waste any leftover pumpkins, either. Those that aren't or can't be sold by the end of the month are given to local farmers or to the Brevard Zoo, where they will use the leftovers to feed the animals.