The front yard and the parking lot of the First Community Congregational Church at 200 Leeland Heights Blvd. just may have been the busiest place in Lehigh Acres this past Saturday. The parking lot was filled with vendors having their own "yard sales" while nearly 50 people helped to unload more than 4,500 pumpkins in front of the church.
It marked the opening of the church's annual Pumpkin Patch sale.
Members and friends of the church had planned to be at the site at 11 a.m. when they expected the arrival of the pumpkins. But the driver of the truck made good time and was there an hour earlier. It didn't take long for the volunteers to show up to unload the pumpkins as many were there waiting.
Church Pastor Deb Frysinger sits near some pumpkins.
"Berry," the driver of the 50-foot tractor-trailer, on his way to Lehigh, had made a stop in Fort Myers to leave pumpkins, but the people who had ordered the pumpkins changed their minds and told him to take them all to Lehigh.
He left New Mexico where the pumpkins were loaded on his truck by a conveyor belt on a 15,000-acre pumpkin patch on a reservation owned by the Navajo Indians.
Berry said it took him four days including time to sleep to arrive in Lehigh.
"I have some time to rest," he said, leaning against the door of his truck. "I just do the driving and others unload whatever I am hauling."
Ada Thompson, the church's moderator, along with Pastor Deb Frysinger and others, had planned the Fourth Annual Pumpkin Patch and a month of events, are planned as thousands of pumpkins - small ones less than a pound to king-sized pumpkins weighing 20 or more pounds were unloaded.
Thompson said people unloading the truck ranged in age from around four and upwards.
The pumpkins were unloaded much like a bucket brigade with long lines of helpers. They were placed on skids that if viewed from above were the letters "WWJD," standing for "What would Jesus do?"
"When the pumpkins arrive, it's always an exciting day," said Pastor Deb Frysinger.
Ada Thompson said most people probably buy the pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns. She said some may save the inside part of the pumpkins for pies. "We sell a 50-cent sheet of stickers - eyes, mouths and noses - that can be stuck on the pumpkins so people don't have to carve them up," Thompson said.
She also noted that some local elementary school classes will visit the Pumpkin Patch and if there are teachers who want to schedule a visit, they can call the church at 369-1615.
She said parents who bring their children to the Pumpkin Patch might want to bring along camera to take pictures.
The Navajo Indians sent the church a video of their pumpkins being loaded and then an email when they were leaving for Lehigh, Thompson said.
Pastor Frysinger noted that the Navajos only sell pumpkins to Christian churches. She said it is one of their missions. They give the churches good deals so pumpkins can be sold at fundraisers like at the Lehigh church.
Frysinger also noted that there is a flea market on the parking lot every first and second Saturday. She said that on this coming Saturday, there will be a pumpkin rummage sale inside the church while pumpkins are on sale outside.
On Oct. 19, she said there will be the first anniversary celebration of the Antique and Classic Car Show that has become a big attraction in Lehigh. It will be from 4 to 8 p.m. with a hog roast with meals costing less than $3.
On Oct. 20, there will be a Pumpkin Patch Festival with adults and kids dressing up in costumes. There will be a pie eating contest, games, a bounce house, pony rides with free hot dogs and free German food, all starting at 10 a.m.
On Oct. 27, the church will host a free spaghetti dinner beginning at 5:30 p.m. for the public.
And on Oct. 31, the night of Halloween, residents can bring Halloween goodies for Trunk or Treat Night. Last year some 700 children showed up for the event on the church parking lot.
"We do it for safety and security of the kids. Instead of walking up and down the streets, they can come here and collect their Halloween treats," she said.
First Community Congregational Church uses the proceeds for the church and to help others. The church has a produce pantry every Friday morning; a bread pantry on Saturday mornings, a food pantry on Tuesday Wednesday and Saturday mornings and a soup kitchen during the week. Anyone who needs food is welcome to come to the church for help.
"The pumpkin patch has become a popular thing for our church and the people of Lehigh enjoy coming and buying our pumpkins. We are going to decorate the outside of the church for fall by using bales of straw and other things.
"Stop by and pick up your choice pumpkin," she said. "Our prices are very reasonable, some starting for 50 cents."