By Joel Hall
From the moment they stepped into the Jonesboro First United Methodist Church Pumpkin Patch, the eyes of Bryce Oswalt, 4, and Ella Oswalt, 2, were as big as the pumpkins they were walking among.
While Ella Oswalt instinctively attempted to seize the biggest pumpkin she could find on Tuesday, her older brother carefully selected a smooth, medium-sized pumpkin and proudly hoisted it up to the cashier.
Throughout the month of October, Jonesboro First United Methodist Church is selling pumpkins, gourds and fall decorations to raise money for its youth ministry and local charities. On Saturday, from 9 a.m., to 4 p.m., the church will host its 2009 Pumpkin Festival, where visitors will be able to decorate pumpkins, explore mazes, enjoy games, and shop from local food and craft vendors.
Doug Thomson, youth coordinator for the church, has organized the pumpkin patch for the past six years. He said that over the years, the patch has served as a way to raise money for youth church activities, and provide the community with an inexpensive family activity.
"We're like everybody else ... funds are limited," Thomson said. "We're trying to raise money, but there is also a community outreach aspect to it. There are some folks who know exactly what they are looking for and they'll spend 15 to 20 minutes looking for the perfect pumpkin and they'll find it."
This year, the patch is selling seven different varieties of pumpkins imported from New Mexico, including: common pumpkins (round and orange); warty pumpkins (orange with wart-like bumps); red warty pumpkins (red with wart-like bumps); "Casper" pumpkins (eerily white in color); "Frankenstein" pumpkins (green in color); peanut pumpkins (pale orange with peanut-like warts); and the "once too many," a splotchy, orange-and-yellow pumpkin, crossbred "once too many" times.
Alongside pumpkins, the church is selling wing gourds, "star" gourds, gooseneck gourds, and turbans, an unusual red gourd shaped like a mushroom. In addition to gourds, the church is also selling fall decorations, such as scarecrows, decorative corn, hay bales and corn stalks.
Thomson said proceeds from past Pumpkin Patch sales have been used to fund church mission trips and have benefited the Calvary Refuge Center in Forest Park, Rainbow House in Jonesboro, and the United Methodist Children's Home in Decatur.
Vicki Maday, a Jonesboro grandmother, said that for many years, she traveled to Burt's Farm in Dawsonville to buy her pumpkins. For the past three years, she has purchased her pumpkins on the lawn of Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, she said.
"We used to go up to North Georgia and get ours, so it was an all-day event," said Maday, who brought her grandchildren, Bryce and Ella Oswalt, to the patch on Tuesday. "Here, you can do this when you just have the kids for the afternoon. It's convenient.
"This is kind of like North Georgia coming to Jonesboro," she added. "You could go to the farmer's market and buy your pumpkins there, but buying it here, you know it is going to a ministry."
On Saturday, at the Pumpkin Festival, there will be variety of inexpensive activities for the young and old to enjoy.
"We're gearing it for kids and adults," Thomson said. "For kids, we'll have a moon walk, a maze, a clown, and some other games. There will be face painting. If someone wants to decorate a pumpkin, they can do it here. For the adults, we'll have vendors who will sell crafts and we'll have a cake walk ... that is very popular."
Thomson said that during the cake walk, people will have the chance to win various baked goods in a raffle, styled after the game, "Musical Chairs."
Renee Knowles, a member of the church and a pumpkin patch volunteer, views the patch as another form of ministry.
"I love that we provide a fun environment for children and families, but that we are also raising money that will further our charities and, ultimately, celebrate the glory of God," she said.
The Pumpkin Patch is open daily until Oct. 31, from 9 a.m., to 9 p.m., on the grounds of Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, located at 142 South Main St., in Jonesboro. For more information about Saturday's Pumpkin Festival, call (770) 478-6444.