Go ahead and refer to the First Christian Church of Stow as “The Pumpkin Church” because parishioners like the moniker. And so do the recipients of more than $32,000 in pumpkin-sales profits made the past seven years.
Tim Neitz, who chairs both the church’s board of trustees and The Pumpkin Ministry, said funds raised each October go to a variety of programs – from sending parishioners to youth camps and on U.S. mission trips to funding world outreach projects.
Thanks to its high-visibility location at the corner of Kent and Darrow roads, the 400-member church is able to sell thousands of the orange gourds each year from its front yard. Sales hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
“There’s always somebody here during those hours – rain, shine or ... snow. And I’ve sat here in the snow selling pumpkins,” Neitz laughed.
Selling the pumpkins is a win-win situation, thanks to Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc., which has been offering a no-risk fundraising opportunity to churches and non-profit organizations for more than 25 years.
According to the Pumpkins USA website, the company will take the loss for any pumpkins that are stolen, broken during shipping, dropped during unloading or by a customer — and any that are left over after Halloween.
“And we have the exclusive distribution rights through Pumpkins USA in a 20-mile radius,” Neitz said.
He said the church got into the fall pumpkin-selling business eight years ago when a member discovered the Pumpkins USA website. That year, the church ordered half a semi-load of pumpkins that quickly sold out, followed by another half-load that also sold out.
Now, the church orders a full semi-load each year — which translates into about 2,100 freestanding pumpkins and hundreds of miniature pumpkins. The company sends pumpkins of every size, shape and color that are grown on a Navajo Reservation near Farmington, NM.
Pumpkins USA suggests prices for freestanding pumpkins at $3 to $45, depending on size. Pie pumpkins are $1.50 each, and tiny pumpkins and decorative gourds are 75-cents each.
The pumpkins arrived at the church Oct. 1 on an 18-wheeler, which was unloaded by a band of 30-some church volunteers ranging in age from 3 to 83. It’s also volunteers that sign up for shifts of several hours at a time to sell the pumpkins every single day throughout October.
Neitz said church members enjoy watching visitors wander through their pumpkin patch in search of the perfect gourd. He said families, which typically buy three to four pumpkins, often bring their cameras to take photos of their kids looking for the perfect jack-o-lantern.
Fred Delaney, church custodian and pumpkin patch volunteer, said he loves that the annual fundraiser benefits so many others — from humans to animals.
“It’s a win-win situation — people who buy their pumpkins here help out the less fortunate,” Delaney said. “And any pumpkins that are left over are donated to a pig farm in Brimfield to be used as animal feed.”