— The theme for the 7th annual Pumpkin Patch at Blackwater United Methodist Church is “Changing lives one pumpkin at a time,” and if all goes according to plan, thousands of lives will be changed for the better.

Beginning Oct. 4th and running until the end of the month, many thousands of pumpkins and gourds, grown on a Navajo reservation in northern New Mexico, will be sold to raise tens of thousands of dollars for more than a dozen church mission projects. An entire parking lot at 10000 Blackwater Road is transformed into a pumpkin maze, and the church’s gym becomes an activity center.

Thousands of pre-school and schoolchildren will visit during field trips in the coming weeks, said event co-chairwoman Linda Chapman and dozens of volunteers, from the church and community, keep the event running smoothly.

“We started out just selling the pumpkins, and now it has grown to where we are running 15 full days of field trips for schoolkids where we tell them stories, they play games, have a hayride — and they have a fun day,” Chapman said. “This year we’re doing a craft show and a car show and a ‘touch the truck’ event” where kids can get up close to fire trucks, motorcycles, farm tractors and some police cars.

“We have 3,000 small pumpkins on a special order and all the little kids will get one,” Chapman said. At least one semi-load of pumpkins was scheduled to arrive yesterday and another one may be needed before the month is over.

But the real reason for the Pumpkin Patch is missions, Chapman said. Money is raised for Angel Tree Christmas presents for needy children, HOPE Ministry food pantries, short-term mission trips for some church members across the U.S. and overseas, and some youth programs.

“We have a sister church in Havana, Cuba, and we help them stay afloat because they get no support and the people there are very poor,” Chapman said.

The pumpkins are priced according to size from $2 to up to $70 for gigantic ones that “are so big you need somebody to help you load them,” she said. They range in color from classic pumpkin orange to white and green and from smooth to warty, she added.

Blackwater UMC is just one of many churches and non-profit organizations in 1,300 locations in 48 states that are cooperative members of Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser International, Chapman said. They pay a base price to the group but the agreement is mutually beneficial.

“The more we sell the more we keep,” Chapman said.

The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry leases over 2,000 acres on the Navajo Reservation, growing 28 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and corn, and employing over 1,000 Native Americans during the harvest season, according to the church’s website.