Southside United Methodist Church’s Pumpkin Patch adds up for youth

Outfitted in Pumpkin Patch aprons, youth member Bailey Rider and youth parent Jen Harbin show off small pumpkins for sale

By Olga Bayer
Resident Community News

The vernal equinox may signal the official transition from summer to fall, but nothing puts us in the mood for autumn fun and festivities quite like the Pumpkin Patch. When the north lawn or “point” of Southside United Methodist Church transforms into a sea of orange, families come out in droves to stroll through rows of seasonal orbs, snap Halloween photos, and pick out plump pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and decorations.
SUMC’s Pumpkin Patch at 3120 Hendricks Ave. has been a favorite spot for little ghosts and goblins for more than 15 years. The patch, a major fundraiser for the youth group, also is a major undertaking that requires yearlong planning and plenty of manpower from set up to break down.
By all accounts, the event has been a huge success, and typically earns $10,000 to $15,000 for youth mission trips such as the annual Guatemala trip.
Barring inclement weather, the pumpkin patch process runs smoothly, almost down to a science. The pumpkins are contracted through a North Carolina-based company, and hale from a Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. They arrive in two separate deliveries, one at the end of September, and a reload in mid-October.
Getting pumpkins from farm to patch starts with workers picking, then loading pumpkins onto long conveyor belts that feed into semitrailers parked out the fields. When drivers reach their final destination at church, the youth and parents form their own human chain to unload the trucks.
It’s an “all-church” effort and Steve Dickson, SUMC’s youth director, said people of all ages participate to unload the big rig filled with 3,000-some-odd pumpkins.
“There’s usually about 100 people involved,” Dickson said. “We start about 9 a.m. and it’s a good three hours. It’s a pretty cool system. We line up shoulder to shoulder and pass the pumpkins down the line to wherever they need to go…they snake through the patch. We set up one row, and go down the next row. It’s a really cool effort. We always give the little kids the little pumpkins to put in a certain area.”
Pumpkins are priced according to sizes and range from 50 cents for small pumpkins to $30 for mammoth ones. Youth and parents man the patch, taking shifts the entire month. Volunteers and youth set up tents, lights, tables and decorations as well as 200 pallets to keep pumpkins dry and off the ground. Youth help customers pick out pumpkins, carry them to their cars, and keep the patch looking fresh.
The precious pumpkin cargo remains unknown until arrival, but generally includes a variety of minis, decorative gourds, Indian corn, cornstalks and more. With all kinds of activities for children, the Pumpkin Patch has become a highly anticipated event for the neighborhood.
“Some families come year after year to get family pictures taken on the same bench,” Dickson said. “It’s a family tradition. We even have birthday parties held at the patch.”
Youth parent Cecile Rider said her kids have “grown up” at the patch, and it’s something they look forward to each year.
“We enjoy everything about it,” Rider said. “It’s a great way to know our church family better and meet wonderful people from our neighborhood. One of the best parts is we have all this fun while working for such a great cause — youth ministry and
missions.”

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