It Started as Simple Fundraiser Nine Years Ago
What started as a simple fundraiser, has turned into a fun, community outreach that is enjoyed by thousands. The First United Methodist Church of Carthage started the Pumpkin Patch nine years ago as a way to raise funds for various children's activities. The pumpkins are shipped from New Mexico where Navajo Indians work the pumpkin patches as a way to support life on the reservation. Leah Hanks, Associate Pastor at FUMC says," We are the 'pumpkin church.' People may not know where First United Methodist Church is, but they know where the pumpkin church is!"
The Pumpkin Patch has grown into the 'field trip destination of choice' by area schools. Each year, school children from Carthage, Beckville, and Gary, look forward to visiting the Pumpkin Patch. Three stations are set up to allow for a larger number of children at one time—Story Time, the Scarecrow Snack Shack, and fun on the playground. Known as The Pumpkin Queen, Terri English is in charge of Story Time, "Every story I read has the Golden Rule..being kind to others, putting yourself in someone else's shoes, things like that. I love the pumpkin patch. Everybody has something they do that they enjoy—this is what I enjoy—it's my mission." At the Scarecrow Snack Shack, kids are served "Pumpkin Juice" (orange drink) and popcorn, plus given a pumpkin page to color. From there they rotate to the playground area at the church. Each child goes home with a goody bag full of treats, plus they pick out a miniature pumpkin to have as a souvenir. Hanks laughs, "I tell people it's the biggest fundraiser not to make us any money. Most of the money we make goes back into the activities and goody bags we provide for the children."
Keeping the Pumpkin Patch in good shape is a full-time job. The pumpkins must be rotated every couple of days and kept off the grass to keep them from rotting. When a pumpkin begins to rot, the "Goat Man" comes to the rescue. "He was like an answered prayer, because we were wondering what we were going to do with the rotten pumpkins. He stopped by one day and asked if he could have them to feed his goats. He's got this old, rusty trailer he leaves here, and when we have a rotten pumpkin, we just throw it in the trailer. He comes by every few days and hauls them off. He's kinda like Santa Clause...he does his work, says hello, but nobody knows his name!" remarks Hanks.
The Pumpkin Patch is also a favorite spot for families to take photos of the kids. Each year, children come dressed in a new fall outfit or Halloween costume and take photos at the Patch. The pumpkins available for sale range from the very small to very large and range in prices from $.50 to $15.00. Also available for purchase are different varieties of pumpkins such as the knobby ones, green ones and white ones, plus gourds and Indian corn. The Pumpkin Patch is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 – 6:00 and on Sundays from 1:00 – 5:00 through the month of October. Also, on the Sunday before Halloween (October 30), people are invited to carve a pumpkin and bring it to the "pumpkin glow" held on the walking track at the church. Candy is handed out and participants get to walk on the track and admire the pumpkins.
Hanks stated, "People have asked why we don't read stories that teach the children about Jesus. Because they come during the school day, we're not allowed to talk about Jesus. We sure would hate for these kids not to be able to come back because we didn't follow the "rules of the land." My theory is, someday when these kids get to be teenagers, and they get into a bind about something, when they drive by our church they will remember that people at our church were nice to them. They may wonder why, and then that little seed is planted that there's love there...even if that's all they got, they know there's love at our church. They might come back and find out more about what's going on. We see lots of kids that it seems like this is the most exciting thing they've ever done...it's just neat to provide something for them that they think is so cool."