Four-year-old Phillip Rispone and his little sister Hazel, 2, were having so much fun loading pumpkins into their wagon it was almost too heavy to move.
“Whoa, whoa, we don’t want all of them,” their father, Kevin Rispone, told the children with a laugh as little Phillip lifted another pumpkin off a nearby pile and added it to the overflowing wagon.
The Rispone family was one of many visiting the Jefferson United Methodist Church’s Pumpkin Patch last Saturday morning, just before the rain arrived.
The Pumpkin Patch, sprawled across the lawn at the Jefferson Highway church, was laid out like a neighborhood with blocks of pumpkins on pallets marked with signs of various mission projects, such as “UMC Children’s Home,” “God’s Daily Bread” and “Angel Tree.”
Now in it’s seventh year, the patch is an annual fundraiser for the church’s two dozen missions projects. In past years it has raised more than $10,000, said Susie Newton, the church’s volunteer missions director.
Jefferson Methodist is one of several churches in the Baton Rouge area and more than 1,000 churches and nonprofits in 46 states that contract with Pumpkin Patch Foundation, a group headquartered in North Carolina that grows millions of pumpkins on the Navajo Reservation near Farmington, New Mexico, specifically for fundraising.
On Oct. 7, an 18-wheeler filled with 45,000 pounds of pumpkins arrived at Jefferson United, and an army of church members carefully unloaded them one at a time and placed them around the patch.
“The pumpkins show up, and then the people show up,” Newton said. “Families come out to let their kids run and play. Lots of families take photographs of their little ones in the Pumpkin Patch.”
Kevin Rispone said this was the fourth year his family has gotten its pumpkins at Jefferson Methodist, and they appreciated the idea of the church raising funds for missions by selling the pumpkins.
“We’re really super big into missions programs as a family and at our church, St. John’s (United) Methodist,” Sarah Rispone added, “so it’s really nice to see people giving to that because you are helping out so many people.”
Michelle DiBenedetto was carrying two large pumpkins by the stem, one in each hand, as her twin daughters, Gia and Gracie, 2, tagged along behind with dad, Kevin.
“We’re getting some pumpkins to carve,” Michelle DiBenedetto said. “We live in the neighborhood. This is our first time here.”
Stationed in the center of the pumpkin patch was a wrought iron park bench surrounded by pumpkins arranged for photographs.
Janna Morgan was sitting on the bench with her daughter, Mollie, 3, and squirming 5-month-old Jacob while Janna’s mother, Penny Bridges, snapped photos with her phone.
Both women live in nearby subdivisions and have been coming to the patch for three or four years, they said.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Bridges said about the fundraising theme of the event.
Erin Pulley and her daughter, Elise, 14 months, also were visiting the patch and taking photos to send to her husband, a U.S. Marine serving at Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
“It took her awhile to get interested in them, but once she discovered them, she wandered around and petted them,” Pulley said. “This is a place for people to have fun. It brings people to the church for a pumpkin, and they see what other things the church offers.”
When they paid for their pumpkins, each customer was given a small packet of roasted, salted pumpkin seeds. Tied to it with a ribbon was a small parchment greeting card with the church’s information printed on the outside and a “Full Harvest Prayer” printed on the inside.
“May Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness and salvation be planted like a seed in your heart,” Newton read the prayer aloud. “May it germinate into a full harvest … a life in Christ.”
“When you greet somebody, when you shake their hand, when you smile to them, then you’re reflecting Jesus,” Newton said. “They walk away with not only a pumpkin but maybe a better knowledge of Christ.”
For more information on Jefferson United Methodist Church visit jumcbr.org.
For more information on the Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers visit pumpkinsusa.com.