For at least five years now, the First Congregational Church of Lehigh Acres at 200 Leland Heights Blvd. has become The Pumpkin Patch and motorists going back and forth over the road can't help but notice the front lawn filled with so many pumpkins that the lawn disappears and all you see is orange.
This year, the church has brought the largest load ever of pumpkins to Lehigh some 4,000-plus of them, which were unloaded this past Sunday afternoon by volunteers in the community literally joining hands with members as they moved the pumpkins in a fast fashion like a bucket brigade from a huge tractor trailer from New Mexico.
"Oh, we had to have more than 4,000 pumpkins, unbelievable, and the people come here for the remainder of the month to purchase their favorite pumpkin," said Ada Thompson, a coordinator and helper who has brought the whole pumpkin patch to life again this year with the help of Pastor Deb Frysinger and others.
Juan Rivera of Lehigh hands down some of the larger pumpkins to G. Rose to be placed on pallets on the front lawn of the First Congregational Community Church.
Several have also come together to head up several special events during October open to the public and with the pumpkin as the theme of the event.
It's a festival like no others around.
Thompson said as in other years, volunteers fill up the parking lot of the church waiting for the over-sized trailer coming from an American Indian farm and ranch that raises pumpkins only for churches in the U.S.
Children from the smallest to teenagers and other volunteers roll the pumpkins to a wooden platform where they are stored in order of size.
"You want a big pumpkin for a pie or a jack-o-lantern, we've got it. If you want medium size pumpkins, they're here, too, and if you want the smaller varieties we have them here, too. We have all sizes," Thompson said.
When the big tractor trailer arrived and pulled into the large parking lot and backed up to the front grassy lawn, volunteers quickly lined up as if they were performing a bucket brigade to unload the pumpkins.
"When we all do that, it goes fast and in a few hour or so, we literally become The Pumpkin Patch, the only of its kind in Lehigh. It is really beautiful to see all the orange colors. There may be nothing else like it in all of Lee County," Thomson said.
"Lots of people love stopping by and selecting a pumpkin and taking a photograph of their children with them," she said.
"This starts the fun season of pumpkins, goblins, ghosts and witches at the church grounds.
"It's a joyous time each fall for the youngsters of all ages to visit the Pumpkin Patch. It is an awesome sight to see the front lawn of the church transformed into a vision of orange," she said.
During the month many elementary school classes visit on field trips just to see the pumpkins and play games, and to hear stories read to them," she said.
Everyone looks forward to "Grandma Pumpkin" and her stories. She's also known as the story lady and enjoys entertaining youngsters, holding classes for the elementary schools with their teachers and catering to other groups of children from the pre-schools with their teachers and families.
The Grandma Pumpkin in no other than the church's popular pastor, Rev. Deb Frysinger.
Thompson said any of the schools teachers and principals that want to bring their children to The Pumpkin Patch should call the church office at 239-369-1675.
The Pumpkin Patch will be open each day from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and manned by volunteers.
Pumpkins are priced by size. They range from 10 cents to $50 for the really giant sized ones.
The driver of the tractor trailer said pumpkins come from a Navajo Indian farm in New Mexico, a four-day trip to Lehigh.
"And pastor Deb said she had plenty of water this past Sunday for all the volunteers who helped take the pumpkins from the truck," Thompson said.
The church has an outreach ministry they call The Helping Hands Ministry. It caters to between 8,000 to 13,000 clients each month. The ministry includes a food pantry which is open three days a week, a produce and dairy ministry, a bread pantry and a soup kitchen for free lunches where food is provided by the Harry Chapin Food Bank and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. It's for anyone who is hungry and needs a hot lunch.
There are several events scheduled in October while the Pumpkin Patch is open to the public.
- Oct. 12, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the Harvest Carnival and Festival. There are many games and contests, a bounce house and a petting zoo. Those who come will be given free hotdogs, chips and a drink.
- Oct. 18, Friday from 4:30 to 7:30, there is a car show on the parking lot. This will be a special anniversary get-together of the "antique car community." Special events and drawings will be held.
- Oct. 19, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a German/Spanish specialty lunch is held for the public, each preparing their special dishes. Helga and Helmut, that's how they call themselves, are owners of the German Austrian Pavilion Restaurant at 1400 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers. They will prepare several pumpkin dishes that they serve at their restaurant.
- Oct. 26, Saturday from 10 a.m.to 3 p.m., a costume contest for the kids will be held, and a blessing of the animals will be conducted and there will be judging of the costumes. There will also be a pumpkin pie eating contest, pumpkin carving contest, face painting and other activities.
- Oct. 31, Thursday, 4:30 p.m. "until the candy is gone" as it will also be "Trunk or Treat Night." It's a safe place for youngsters to go trick or treating. Volunteers line up their vehicles with their trunks open filled with candy and costumed ghosts, witches, princess and outer space aliens and all others are given the candy.
- Nov. 9, there is a Southern Fish Fry beginning at 5 p.m. with servings of southern fish, hush puppies, coleslaw and French fries, all for $6.