By Linda Dillman
Carl Sandberg once lauded the humble pumpkin in his poem, “Theme in Yellow,” for decorating the hills in autumn and lighting the prairie cornfields with orange.
The same visual imagery can be found in the pumpkins sold by siblings Elle, Sam, and Alex Howard with the purpose of turning the pumpkins into a fundraiser to feed the needy through Canal Winchester’s Human Services Food Pantry.
Four years ago, the trio of teenagers held their first Pumpkins Helping People sale and raised $699 by going door-to-door with a load of plump orange pumpkins. The next year, after organizing as a non-profit, sales moved online and $1,733 was donated to the food pantry.
“We selected the CW Community Food Pantry because we live in Canal Winchester,” said Alex. “It is our home and we wanted to help out people in our community. This year we added another food pantry – Bloom Carroll Pantry Mission. We plan to donate all of the proceeds from our sales in the Carroll 43112 zip code to this food pantry. We will still donate all of the proceeds from the Canal Winchester, Lithopolis, and Pickerington zip codes to the CW Community Food Pantry.”
Three to four years before the Howards started selling pumpkins as a fundraiser, they nurtured a garden in their backyard and grew everything from asparagus to strawberries as well as pumpkins. In 2016, they grew around 30 pumpkins, which they sold around their neighborhood and donated 10 percent of their profits to the food pantry.
A year later, they attempted to grow pumpkins again, but had little success. They decided to purchase pumpkins from a farmer in Amanda and give 100 percent of the profits to the pantry.
“We thought we could continue to grow and sell our own pumpkins every year,” said Alex. “However, this did not work out. We couldn’t get them to grow very well. Therefore, we found Saum Family Farms in Amanda. We like buying from a family farm because we are helping a small business.”
In 2019, the Howards donated $2,877 and in 2020, their annual pumpkin sale resulted in a $3,284 donation. Pumpkins Helping People is a volunteer organization and all profits go directly to the pantries. Their goal in 2021 is to raise over $3,750.
The siblings created Pumpkins Helping People after their family visited the food pantry to make their first donation and were surprised so many people needed help in their community. They thought that selling pumpkins would be a great fundraiser for the pantry because they are only sold for a limited period of time, many people buy them and all of the profit would go to help other people.
They organized as a registered non-profit with a 501(c)3 status because the Howards said they wanted people to know they were a legitimate, all-volunteer endeavor and regulated by the state. They felt the designation would help people feel more comfortable buying from them.
“Pumpkins Helping People has made a big impact on the Community Food Pantry,” said Food Pantry Director Aletha Mullins. “They have donated over $8,500 to the Community Food Pantry over the last several years. All proceeds from this fundraiser go directly to feeding your neighbor. This is an innovative way to connect to the community and everyone wins.”
The 2021 Pumpkins Helping People pumpkin sale runs through Sept. 30.
Customers go to www.pumpkinshelpingpeople.org to purchase their pumpkins, which are only available for order online and cost $15 for a large pumpkin and $10 for a small or medium one. Volunteers deliver pumpkins— only sold and delivered to the following zip codes: 43110, 43136, 43147, and 43112—directly to a customer’s door the first week of October.
“I think the process of creating and running Pumpkins Helping People has been life changing for all three of us,” said Alex. “First, it has made us appreciate things more. Second, through the ups and downs we have faced in starting and developing this organization, we have learned even more about working hard to achieve what we want. Finally, with the help of our parents, we were able to learn the ins and outs of how to start and run a business. We feel fortunate we have had this opportunity, and I think that working on this non-profit has brought our family closer together.”
Sandberg continued in “Chicago Poems,” published in 1916 “…On the last of October…When dusk is fallen…Children join hands…And circle round me…Singing ghost songs…And love to the harvest moon. I am a jack—o’—lantern…With terrible teeth…And the children know…I am fooling.”
The Howards are turning the poet’s beloved autumn orange orbs into something better than a jack-o-lantern. They are using them to put a meal on a table and fill an empty stomach. Sandberg would be proud.