Wednesday, October 25, 2006

saving the pumpkin at a time

The pumpkin-picking at Ashland Berry Farm last week turned out even better than I expected. It was one of those moments that reminds me why I like my job so much and why I think the kids I work with are so great. The following is an account of the afternoon (with a few visual aids thrown in) that I wrote for St. James's monthly newsletter:

Counting Our Blessings in Pumpkins

St. James’s high school youth group is all about fellowship. Every Sunday evening, we meet to eat dinner together and participate in a fun activity, and we always end up having a good time. But as a part of the parish at large, our youth group is also a means for us to serve, to give thanks for our many blessings by sharing what we have with others.

Emily Steele is a St. James’s parishioner and former youth group volunteer leader of four years. As principal of Fair Oaks Elementary School in Henrico County’s Varina district, Emily needed 30 pumpkins for her school’s third annual Community Day on October 21. As Emily put it, Community Day “celebrates the connection between home and school” with a fun afternoon that includes “an inflatable obstacle course, games, pizza, hay rides and more.” The school needed pumpkins for a pumpkin-painting station, so our youth group offered to take a trip to Ashland Berry Farm to pick pumpkins and donate them to the cause.

Ashland Berry Farm is bustling with people in mid-October, due in large part to the deal they give on pumpkins: all the pumpkins you can carry (and take three steps) for $20. We sat in a line of traffic for 15 minutes just to get into the parking lot and stood in line for another half an hour to hop on the hayride out to the pumpkin patch. Despite the hoops we had to jump through, we found lots of ideal pumpkins once we were out in the field. Our pile grew bigger and bigger until we were uncertain we could carry all that we had amassed.

But there were lots of side comments as we counted and stacked pumpkins. “I picked this one – I’m taking it home.” “This is my favorite, I’m keeping it for myself.” “This one is perfect. It’s mine – I call it.” So we stopped for a moment. We talked about why were taking on this project. We talked about a spirit of giving, about sharing all that we have and not keeping the best for ourselves, about providing for others and trusting God to provide for us. It was quiet for a minute, and then everyone let go – literally and figuratively – of their pumpkins.

That turn of spirit marked an infectious change in the whole dynamic of the afternoon. The tractor driver of the hayride offered the front shovel of his tractor to carry our pumpkins safely back to the farm. “I’m gonna drive real slow – I don’t want to spill any of these charitable pumpkins,” he said, raising the shovel up as if the pumpkins were a sacred offering. The woman collecting money helped us get all of the pumpkins into four armloads (we had tested it out in five), and then only charged us for three. “It’s for a good cause!” she said.

In all, we gathered almost 50 pumpkins for Fair Oaks’ Community Day and loaded them in the back of Emily’s truck. Emily writes, “Thank you so much to St. James’s and their amazing youth group who have touched lives and provided smiles for an entire community!” The whole experience was a timely reminder for me – and, I hope, for our youth – that we are blessed with much, and sharing those blessings with others is really what it’s all about.

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