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Monday May 25th, 2015 1:36AM

Church pumpkin patches benefit youth projects

By B.J. Williams News Director
UNDATED - Even though pumpkin selling season is just about over, students from two church congregations in Hall County are going to sell pumpkins from their patches until the very last minute.

Both Gainesville First United Methodist Church on Thompson Bridge Road and The Springs United Methodist Church on Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch have welcomed the fall season with a student-run pumpkin patch on their respective church campuses for years.

Both churches get their pumpkin supply from a national organization based in North Carolina that ships pumpkins to churches all over the country from a farm at a Navajo Reservation in Farmington, New Mexico. (See link below.) Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers, which has been operating for 31 years, actually used to grow pumpkins in Georgia and North Carolina, but Hurricane Hugo decimated the crop in 1989, prompting the ministry founders to look elsewhere for a supply.

"I have been involved in the pumpkin patch fundraiser at three different churches. I have seen the positive impact this fundraiser has on both the farmers and the local communities of faith," said The Springs Pastor Jamie Hudgins.

Hudgins said The Springs has had a pumpkin patch for eight years, and this year, the church has sold 360 larger pumpkins, and another 710 of the smaller size. He says their pumpkin patch will be open until 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 31.

Gainesville First United Methodist Church Youth Pastor David Burchett said the pumpkin patch fundraiser has been around GFUMC long than he has. As for the exact number of pumpkins his students have sold this year, he can't say.

"What I can tell you is when the truck unloaded, we had 47,500 pounds of pumpkins, so what's that? Almost 23 tons," said Burchett.

While the pumpkin patches at both churches are a lot of work - and a lot of fun - the main goal is to raise money for youth church members so that they can do mission work at home and abroad.

"We've been down to New Orleans and Gulfport three or four times since [Hurricane] Katrina, to a poverty-stricken area in Puerto Rico, to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona twice," said Burchett.

Hudgins said The Springs has used "pumpkin money" to take youth mission trips to Jacksonville, Fl and McDonough, GA, as well as supporting Vacation Bible School for the local community.

If there are any leftover pumpkins, the churches allow local farmers to use the leftovers for their livestock.

And, both pastors said there's no chance the pumpkin patches will disappear in the future.

"This is a win, win, win event," said Hudgins. "It supports a ministry to and with the native Americans in New Mexico, raises support for specifically our Youth Ministry now, and lets us have a lot of fun meeting and getting to know our community."

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