Instead of benefiting from its own pumpkin sales, a Gainesville church will donate 100 percent of its pumpkin proceeds to children in hunger in Alachua County and Guatemala.
This is the second year of the “Buy a Pumpkin, Feed a Child” campaign at the Gainesville Church of God.
The church donates all of its proceeds from pumpkin sales during its annual pumpkin patch to the Alachua County Food4Kids Backpack Program, the Salvation Army, and to feeding centers the church has built in Eastern Guatemala.
Fifteen percent of the proceeds go to the Alachua County programs and 85 percent go to Guatemala, said Ron Sanderson, an associate pastor for the church.
This year, the church opened the pumpkin patch on Oct. 3, and it has already surpassed last year’s revenue for the first two weeks of pumpkin sales, Sanderson said.
He said his goal is to sell $50,000 worth of pumpkins and raise $20,000 to give to the local charities and feeding centers in Guatemala.
“We’ve done very well so far,” he said.
Sanderson said the mission work the church has been doing in Guatemala for the past 16 to 17 years inspired his idea to implement the campaign last year. This inspiration was partnered with an idea from a church in Homestead, Florida, that donates all of its proceeds from Christmas tree sales to local orphanages.
“I thought, ‘what can we do to give back?’” he said. “It’s a big ordeal.”
The church has built 10 feeding centers in Guatemala to supply children with two meals a day for three days a week, which is what the pumpkin sales will provide for, Sanderson said.
Members from the church visit the eastern part of Guatemala in the mountains every March. They have three teams – a medical, ministry and construction team – that help with building houses and feeding centers, feeding families and treating children with any health care needs.
Heather Goodman, a church member and a registered nurse at UF Health, said the church is invested in the families and the children they work with in Guatemala, which is a reason for the large donation.
Goodman, the medical team leader, said it’s important for the church to continue to support these families in Guatemala after they visit because they provide experiences to children in Guatemala they wouldn’t have otherwise — which can be as simple as tasting candy.
She said as they ride up a Guatemalan mountain for two and half hours, they pass out candy to children who wait on the side of the street.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” she said. “They love it.”
Sanderson said a lot of money goes into the monthlong pumpkin patch, but it’s worth it because they help a number of different people, including those on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico where the church gets its pumpkins.
The church pays the reservation for the pumpkins using 60 to 70 percent of the total sales, and the remaining profits are donated to the church’s three selected feeding centers in its “Buy a Pumpkin, Feed a Child” campaign.
The church sells homemade pumpkin bread and other baked goods to purchase the pumpkins and fund free activities for children to participate in at the patch, like hayrides, hay mazes, bounce houses and movie nights with hot chocolate.
“We go in the hole a little bit, but it’s all worth it,” he said.
Sanderson said he’s had families drive an hour just to visit the church’s pumpkin patch. He said he thinks people come to the patch because of its unique “Buy a Pumpkin, Feed a Child” campaign.
He said a church is supposed to be the light of the world for those who need assistance, and that’s what the church’s pumpkin patch is for.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the ministry.”