SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The changing tree leaves from green to vibrant colors like orange also bring the fall ritual of Pumpkin Palooza at the Peace Dale Congregational Church gong on this week through the end of the month.
On a schedule that seems in sync with nature, the pumpkins arrived recently and have been selling quickly to people wanting to embrace outdoor Halloween festivities largely postponed last year because of the COVID pandemic.
“Before the truck could get out of here after being unloaded, we started selling them,” said Wally Young, church organizer of the palooza whose sales benefit the nearby Welcome House homeless center on North Road. It has been for many years the church’s dedicated community service project.
Across a sprawling front lawn on Columbia Street, thousands of orange — and a few red and green — round lumps as seen from an approaching distance line neat rows by the old stone church that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A closer view that comes into focus when walking along the church driveway is more than 5,000 pumpkins along with a few gourds of many different colors are stacked on wooden pallets in a unique pumpkin patch.
Wandering in the Patch
Two-year-old Hannah Faggella wandered among them with her parents, Peter and Megan, following. Last year, at just one year-old, there wasn’t the excitement that comes with the start of the magic years when a young child feels a growing sense of discovery and magical power from fantasy.
“This is really her first Halloween. We’ll all be able to celebrate this year,” said her father Peter, pulling a small wagon with some small and medium-sized pumpkins. “She picked them all,” he said, nodding to the collection.
Her mother, Megan, looked on. “It’s our first pumpkin adventure,” she added with a laugh, and gazing at the Hannah, the only child of these young parents.
Brian Bos of Charlestown walked up and down make-shift aisles of pumpkins. He hunted for just the right one for his six-year-old grandson. The two will attempt to carve one, but Bos said he expected to do much of it and also wanted one smooth and round.
“He hasn’t the patience for carving. He just likes the end result,” Bos said, smiling. Soon after recalling the carving challenge ahead, he walked to the checkout counter with a medium-sized, very round pumpkin that was just the right size and texture.
It’s all for a good cause with both the church and families winners in this palooza.
Church and Welcome House officials have noted that this project has brought nearly $20,000 in sales in past years.
A blue measuring tape is ready at the checkout for determining the price. It doesn’t show size, but in different gauges it estimates a price for selling the pumpkin in hand.
“The tape goes up to $50, but we’ve never had a $50 pumpkin,” Young said, hands outstretched as wide as possible. “They all really sell between 50 cents and $30 or $35,” he added,
On hand this past weekend to help were church volunteers as well as students from South Kingstown High School and Curtis Corner Elementary School. Students from sororities and fraternities at the University of Rhode Island helped to unload the pumpkins October 3 from a large delivery truck.
Young wore his traditional orange pumpkin-styled baseball cap stamped with “PUMPKINHEAD.” He oversaw the checkouts and directed people to different parts of his patch of pumpkins.
Pumpkins with a Purpose
PDCC is known as the “pumpkin church” and pumpkins – cultivar of winter squash – come from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. This community and socially-minded church has been proud that both local residents and homeless benefit from the sales as well as Navajo farmers.
Young said he came up with the idea five years ago for the pumpkin fundraiser after visiting his oldest son, who worked as the music director of the Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa. That church had also been working with Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers, a provider of pumpkins for non-profit groups.
PDCC Pastor Fred Evenson said, “Our Pumpkin Palooza was a smashing success! Even a local bike club had to slow their roll — and come to a stop — as they listened to the music and took in the event.“
“And our Pumpkins with a Purpose mission, well, what a great way to let the light the light of Christ’s neighbor-love shine through the smile of a jack o’ lantern!,” he added.