SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It is Pumpkin Palooza at Peace Dale Congregational Church.
Hundreds of orange, white, blue, green pumpkins for sale in an assortment of sizes and shapes fill the church’s front lawn. It’s a Halloween setting designed to be exaggerated and draw customers whose purchases support the nearby Welcome House serving the homeless and others in housing transitions.
“They are pumpkins with a purpose,” said Peter Pezzelli on Saturday as he perused the patch of pumpkins, looking for the “largest pumpkin as I can find. No better place to find one!”
A Welcome House Board of Directors member, he stopped by the church at 261 Columbia St. to pick up a few for his own house and took some time to explain benefits these sales bring to the Welcome House.
“There are people living in our community who are living outside our community. They need some place to go and have no place to go. We’re trying to give them a place. It takes money to do it, though,” he said.
Church and Welcome House officials have noted that this annual sale, which brings in pumpkins from New Mexico by the truck load, has raised nearly $20,000 for the shelter. Wally Young, a church member and board member at the Welcome House has overseen the project each year.
“It’s for a great cause,” he said Saturday, while taking credit cards and cash from eager customers waiting in line. “I think we really help a lot of people by doing it.”
Laurie Jones of Narragansett, accompanied by Kathleen Chronley, who grew up there, pulled little wagons through the pumpkin patch looking for specific shapes and varieties.
“We want to get some for her mom, and then some to bring to the cemetery for family. We have gone in the past to different places and we felt for Welcome House we should come here,” said Jones, who along with Chronley, are social workers.
They said they understand first-hand the benefit of this kind of fundraiser. The Welcome House, located at 8 North Road in Peace Dale, has 17 beds open to homeless people in Rhode Island, explained James Kern, the organization’s director of administration.
“When a client comes in and fills one of those beds, what we offer is case management on a person by person basis. The money raised goes to case managers, helping pay for a van for doctor’s appointments, to take people to job interviews or to the Social Security Office or any housing appointments,” he said.
Welcome House also runs daily a soup kitchen for its residents and others who would simply need something to eat, he added,
The organization works with individuals “to get them stabilized so we can get them into a more long-term situation, which includes housing vouchers or placement in some of Welcome House rental apartments,” he said.
The Rev. Gary Bagley, Peace Dale Congregational Church’s minister whose term ended this past week, said that this charity project is part of the church’s mission to help the less fortunate in the community and has wide support throughout the congregation.
Pezzelli, comparing both the struggles of the social service organization as well as the people it serves, said, the fundraiser helps both.
“These people need lots of services and those are the things we’re trying to position ourselves financially to better provide. It’s not just giving them a warm place to stay, although that’s certainly part of it,” he said.
He also pointed out, “Everybody has some family member or knows someone who has had a problem with substance abuse and could become homeless. They need a path back to a normal life.”