As a semitrailer pulled up to Aurora United Methodist Church in Algiers one evening last week, fall was in the air.
A cool breeze had set the oak leaves rustling, their sound punctuated by percussion from the Edna Karr High School marching band, practicing a few blocks away.
But as the truck's back doors opened, fall became tangible.
There were pumpkins, thousands of them, all the way from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, in all their golden-orange glory. Now there was excitement in the air, too.
Aurora Methodist was getting about 1,100, but the truck held enough to fill pumpkin patches at two other area churches as well, said Shelly Neeb, who helps coordinate Aurora's event.
About 50 people, including parishioners, Scouts and parents of children in the church's preschool program, went to work unloading the truck, pushing pumpkins in wheelbarrows, pulling them in Red Flyer wagons or simply moving them with their hands. Mostly, they were having fun.
Other volunteers displayed the pumpkins on wooden pallets in preparation for the Halloween shopping sprees and kiddie field trips to come.
Neeb said the pumpkins come to Algiers on consignment through a fundraising program called Pumpkin Patch. Part of the sale proceeds go to the growers, who pump money into the reservation's economy by employing its residents; another part stays with the church to use for its missions.
The pumpkins serve as an economic engine for all parties to the deal, noted parishioner Lee Prout. But he said he sees them as a way to build community. "It (the pumpkin patch) is more for the group to get together and do something together," he said a dinner of hot dogs and Frito-chili pies was dished up for volunteers.
Jamie and Chris Adams arrived too late to unload, so they decided to shop instead. To them, the pumpkins are a creative outlet.
"We're looking for big ones to set on fire,” Jamie Adams said.
With the help of online instructions, she said, they will create flaming pumpkin displays to captivate neighborhood trick-or-treaters. First, they'll carve several large ones into jack-o'-lanterns. Next, they'll coat the outsides with one of several recommended chemicals.
At showtime, a toilet paper roll soaked in kerosene will be stuffed inside each and lit. Not only will the fire illuminate the pumpkin, but it also will ignite the chemicals, which will produce colored flames.
"It's our first time doing it," Jamie Adams said. "We saw it on Pinterest."
"We normally sit on the porch and let kids come around," Chris Adams said, adding that the flame display should last two to three hours, plenty long to entertain during the rush.
For Neeb, who helps wrangle the groups of preschoolers and kindergartners who come to tour the patch, the pumpkins are less about the frights and delights of Halloween and more about teaching an important social lesson.
Though the pumpkins may be different on the outside -- smooth or bumpy, green or orange or a combination of colors, round or oval, small or large -- but like people, they're all the same inside, she tells her young charges.
The pumpkins also illustrate lessons in environmental and resource management. As some get too soft to sell, Kathy Powers -- who's on the church pumpkin patch committee along with Neeb and Melissa Warren -- roasts them, scoops out the pulp and makes pumpkin bread to sell at the event.
After Halloween, the pumpkins go to area farmers, who use them to feed animals or as compost, Neeb said.
All these constructive uses, however, don't diminish the fact that they're also a lot of wholesome fun.
"You get to make faces, and you get to decorate them," said Padraig Bowman, an enthusiastic 7-year-old.
Padraig, the son of Paul Bowman and Laura Rogan, had the details of the process at the ready.
"First you cut out the top and take the top off. And then you get a huge spoon and scoop it out and put in it a bowl or on a napkin, and mom cooks the seeds," he said.
"I use a black marker and draw the face and then cut it."
He said he cuts his own jack-o'-lantern but added "we do it all together."
And that may be the best pumpkin use of all.