Last Sunday, in the course of about a half-hour, two customers at the St. Ann’s Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser to benefit summer youth service trips said the same thing to me, the cashier: “We always buy our pumpkins here.”
Nice, I thought, and funny, because this year’s patch is our second annual – which means both customers have bought pumpkins at St. Ann’s no more than two times each.
My father has collected a bunch of one-line universal truths (which I universally believe) he calls “Laskey’s Laws,” and one is “Three is a trend,” or a tradition. By this law, both women at the patch were one year premature in their particular words of support. But it is improper to nitpick kindness, and what is more interesting about the coincidence is the way it embodied a common desire to be part of something – a parish, a town, a tradition, a good cause.
The pumpkin patch, which I coordinate, reminds me of the power of community every day. In a culture where individualism rules, there are still some places that facilitate a shared life – and this is what church does at its best. Maybe it’s just because I have pumpkins on the brain, during both waking and sleeping hours, but I’m convinced that the spirit of pumpkin patch fundraisers at places like St. Ann’s could save the world. Or at least save a few souls (e.g., my own) from otherwise slowly sinking into cyncism.
- Scores of volunteers are needed to make the thing run. First, there was the unloading of about 2500 pumpkins off a tractor-trailer from New Mexico. Two days before the delivery, a St. Ann’s parishioner called me out of the blue. A landscaping materials supplier, he had a forklift handy, and could make up some baskets so we could get the pumpkins down onto the ground a lot faster. “Good idea,” I said, and it worked perfectly.
- That was September 24, and we’re bound by contract to be open every day through Halloween, so the next job was to start plugging in volunteers to staff the patch. They have to keep track of the money, kindly and firmly wrangle hagglers, and, every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, flip the pumpkins on their side (all of them) to avoid rot. It’s demanding, and yet I rarely have trouble filling any of the 85 two- or three-hour shifts on the patch calendar. Families and couples sit out there under the tent together. A retiree, parent, or young adults goes it alone from time to time. They don’t get a free pumpkin for their troubles, or even a discount, but there they sit, and stand, and carry pumpkins to trunks.
- Last year, I stopped a 20-something on her way into church alone, and asked if she wanted to help out with the pumpkins. Turned out she wasn’t Catholic, but something had been drawing her to St. Ann’s. She signed up for a few shifts, and became a dedicated volunteer in the youth ministry program all year long, a dear friend, and a member of this year’s RCIA class.
That Halloween, I sat with one of my all-time favorite couples, weekly volunteers who would often close down the patch at 6:00. They had come dressed as scarecrows – of peerless spirit, as always. Traffic was light, and we chatted as the sun set. It was one of those moments thick with unspeakable meaning. We packed up for the season, with just a few pumpkins leftover.
When the stress of running a big fundraising project peaks, and I feel tempted to go out to the patch after hours with a large polo mallet, I think of that evening, and the people who have found a home among the pumpkins. It is worth it, and I relax.
Mike is a Program Coordinator for the Center for FaithJustice in addition to the part-time Youth Minister at St. Ann’s Church.
He promises to set down the mallet if you stop by the Pumpkin Patch, which is open through Halloween (8:00 am-6:00 pm weekends; 3:00 pm-6:00 pm weekdays) at 1253 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ.