PA - The 172-foot steeple on the United Methodist Church is a landmark
in this small western Pennsylvania town.
The church is something from a picture postcard; the bell in
its tower has chimed almost every hour for the last 130 years.
Yet every October, people in this town of 4,000 residents flock
to the church for a different reason -- thousands of plump, orange
pumpkins grown on the Navajo Nation.
The church is one of 1,300 locations in 48 states to participate
in a profit-sharing fundraiser with Navajo Agricultural Products
Industry, also known as NAPI.
For the last decade, the lawn outside Sewickley United Methodist
Church has been transformed into a "pumpkin patch."
"People come here to have their pictures taken," said
Barry Lewis, former pastor of the church, who was volunteering Saturday
at the pumpkin patch. "We have brides and grooms who have their
wedding photos taken here, among this sea of orange."
Every year a semi-trailer makes the 1,500-mile journey from
NAPI to Sewickley and volunteers form an assembly line to unload
the crop, Lewis said.
This year's crop included nearly 2,500 pumpkins of varying sizes.
So many pumpkins arrived that they covered the lawn bordering
two sides of the church.
The church sells the pumpkins throughout October, bringing in
about $15,000 yearly.
Two-thirds of the profit is returned to the Navajo Nation, where
it is used to pay workers and cover costs of operation. The remaining
proceeds go to the church for programs or services, Lewis said.
For more than a month, the church lawn is covered in a layer
of straw with pumpkins strewn on top. Children climb on the bigger
ones, sometimes tumbling over or through them.