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Pumpkin Patch Morphs Into Community Outreach Platform

Unitarian Universalist Congregation imports thousands of pumpkins

Many hands make light work. On Saturday, Oct. 1, dozens of volunteers showed up at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UUC) of Central Nassau, located on the northwest corner of Stewart Avenue and Nassau Boulevard, to help unload nearly 3,000 pumpkins from a box truck that had just arrived from Farmington, NM. Among the volunteers were congregation members and their friends, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and students in need of community service hours – all of whom worked side-by-side to empty the truck and fill the patch in a mere two and a half hours.

For the seventh consecutive year, pumpkin patch coordinator and UUC member Patsy Kaplan has worked with Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc. to enhance the community as well as to raise necessary funds to help offset the operating costs of her congregation. “I feel the pumpkin patch is for the community. … We are benefitting from it, but people come in here and tell us, ‘Thank you so much,’” Kaplan said.

Indeed, the patch has grown in many ways over the years. In the beginning, Kaplan decided to diversify UUC’s fundraising efforts in an effort to minimize UUC’s cash outlay. Dubbed “the world’s best fundraiser,” which Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers has posted on its web page, the pumpkins are given to UUC on consignment. Kaplan tracks the dollar value of pumpkins sold each day and reports that amount to the company daily. What started out as a cost-cutting measure has turned into much more. Not only has Kaplan expanded the time frame of the patch, which now runs from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31, she also has increased the number of pumpkins available for sale and has added mums and other plants – which she gets from local vendors – and homemade baked goods. Even more importantly, in Kaplan’s eyes, is the community involvement and enthusiasm that has evolved from the patch.

Upwards of five local Scout groups helped unload the first batch of pumpkins on Oct. 1. Children worked alongside congregation members of all ages to unload the truck assembly line-style in record time. Interestingly, Kaplan pointed out, UUC received a second delivery on Tuesday, Oct. 11, which was unloaded by paid workers (Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers hired laborers), who took more than six hours to empty the truck.

While Scouts had an opportunity to earn community service hours for their respective achievements, they also learned how to work as a team. What’s more, some Scout groups use the patch to deliver an important message. A group of Girl Scouts “did a whole thing on breast cancer awareness by setting up a booth and handing out sorts of information,” Kaplan said. The girls baked cookies to resemble the symbolic pink ribbon associated with the fight against breast cancer. They had crafts at their booth, which they let visitors participate in for free as they shared information about the fight against breast cancer.

“This is what the pumpkin patch is for … not to buy, buy, buy,” Kaplan said, adding that the patch also hosts folk singers on the weekend. It’s nice “just to be able to come and be in a place where [people] have more than just buying a pumpkin. I think a kid gets more fun out of going around with the wagons, as opposed to picking it up out of a bin at the supermarket,” she added.

And on a practical note, the pumpkins the patch sells have a longer shelf life than locally grown pumpkins, Kaplan said. They are grown in New Mexico, on land that Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers leases from a Navajo reservation. The farmers are able to control the moisture of the land, which is very dry in that region, with an irrigation system. Pumpkins grown from oversaturated farmland tend to rot more quickly than pumpkins grown in drier climates.   

“When you buy from here, you’re contributing to this congregation, you’re contributing to the Navajos, which I think is extremely important ... they are not building casinos, they’re sending pumpkins,” Kaplan said. “In some ways, it’s a little spiritual to me … It feels very personal. It’s turned into our biggest fundraiser.”

As for the community? The pumpkin patch on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in Garden City has become a telltale sign that fall is here. When the patch winds down at the end of October, friends and neighbors are invited to gather at UUC’s Harvest Fair on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.