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Trunk or Treat Fall Festival brings community together

A family dressed as the Flintstones pick out a pumpkin during the Fall Festival. Georgia Sapp, their 22-month-old daughter, goes to Abiding Savior Preschool. (Jasper Wittig/WUFT News)
A family dressed as the Flintstones pick out a pumpkin during the Fall Festival. Georgia Sapp, their 22-month-old daughter, goes to Abiding Savior Preschool. (Jasper Wittig/WUFT News)

The afternoon sun beat down on roughly 4,000 pumpkins as 25 cars set up their trunks for Trunk or Treat, a twist on Halloween trick-or-treating. The Abiding Savior Lutheran Church and Preschool off Newberry Road brought the local community together on Sunday for its annual pumpkin patch and Fall Festival.

Youth Leader Danny Schmitt has been directing the event since he came to the church in 2016, and he started planning this year’s festival in August. He expected an attendance of around 500 people, a number similar to 2021. To his surprise, a total of around 750 people turned out. 

“We always like to say that when events go really well like this, the events tend to get bigger the next year,” he said.

The parking lot in front of the church was transformed into a Halloween experience, each car decorated with a unique theme complete with candies and snacks for the trick-or-treaters walking through. Preschool teachers and congregational members helped to organize and participate in the event.

Kristina Mandeville, 20, a member of the church, and her boyfriend Kyle Caudill, 22, dressed as Pikachu and Ash. The trunk of their car was decorated with Pokemon stuffed animals and hand-made Pokeballs. This is the second year the couple volunteered for the event together, and they choose costumes they can have fun with and that kids will recognize.

“The excitement, the smiles and everything,” Caudill said, “it just really warms your heart.”

Mandeville said she started coming to Abiding Savior when she was 6 months old and was the president of the youth group in 2017. After a family emergency a few years ago, she said the church anonymously pulled together to help her.

“Of course, it’s special to me because I’ve been going here my whole life,” she said. “Everyone has kind of turned into family.”

Youth group member Kyle Morgan, 19, volunteered to cook and give away 300 free hot dogs to attendees along with free popcorn, water and Capri Sun. He has been involved in the church since he moved to Gainesville from Ohio four years ago. 

He dressed in a Spider-Man suit for the event and stayed in character to excite the kids.

“We’re all like a big family, and we all look out for each other. That’s a huge bonus of being here,” Morgan said. “But this event, especially, we’re just trying to make kids happy and put a smile on their face.”

Across from the hot dog stand, a small train driven by a youth member dressed as Jesus Christ rolls by with train cars full of grinning kids in costumes from Disney princesses to superheroes. 

Games scattered across the pavilion encouraged kids to get involved in activities such as mini-football throwing, rubber frog launching and ring toss. Central Florida Bounce lent a carnival game and minion-themed bounce house for the festivities.

Angela Calloway found out about the fall festival on Facebook, and she brought her two kids, her sister, and her sister’s two kids.

“It gives the kids time to have fun,” she said. “Instead of having to go door to door, everybody can just come together as one community and the kids can just have fun.”

By the end of the festival, the church had sold more than 400 pumpkins and given out every hot dog and free refreshment.

The pumpkin patch is open until Oct. 31, and it raises money to pay for a trip for Lutheran high school students to go to the National Youth Gathering every three years. In 2025, the group will meet 20,000 to 30,000 other students to worship together in New Orleans.

“This is our big major fundraiser to help subsidize that cost,” Schmitt said. “So I’m not having to charge each of those kids that go $2,600. I have to charge them like $250 to $300, or maybe $500, to go on the trip.”

Jasper is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing