County organizations offer seasonal activities for kids that also benefit local charities

Hands that pick pumpkins also harvest help


Four-year-old Jacob Sutherland walked up to the front table at the Friends of the Light House Shelter pumpkin patch.

He held a handmade skeleton-bead necklace, a bag of sugar cookies and a miniature pumpkin, and paid for them with $3 from his Spider-Man wallet.

"I got five pumpkins already," he said. "One's small and all of the other ones were big."

Alex Sutherland of Eastport said his son had already been to the pumpkin patch in front of St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church twice in its first two days of operation, loading up on pumpkins for his family.

"One was this large," Jacob said, making a 1-foot-wide ring with his arms. "I took it to my Mimi's house" - his grandmother's, his father interpreted.

The Light House Shelter pumpkin patch is one of several local sites that offer people the chance to gather in the cooling air this month and pick out the perfect jack-o'-lantern-to-be. And in many cases, the proceeds from pumpkin patch sales and harvest-time events will go to support a local charity or benefit drive.

The St. Martin's pumpkin patch is sponsored by Friends of the Light House Shelter, a nonprofit organization that supports the Light House homeless shelter on West Street in Annapolis. The shelter is operated by Annapolis Area Ministries Inc., a consortium that includes 17 area churches. Members of those churches are contributing their time this month to staff the daily pumpkin patch on a rotating basis.

"I really like to think of this as a good fellowship opportunity for the various churches that come out there to help," said Carolyn Houck, a board member of Friends of the Light House Shelter and publicity chairwoman for the pumpkin patch event.

Dick Darcy, who organizes finances for the event, said some of the revenue goes to pay for the pumpkins, but all profits are donated to charity. In seasonal style, the group tracks revenues by filling a jar with stale candy corn to reflect how much money has been raised.

The fenced-in area on the St. Martin's lawn is guarded by a series of smiling scarecrows. Children can wander the grounds or dig through large cardboard boxes full of hundreds of miniature pumpkin breeds. In addition to an estimated 3,000 pumpkins, the patch features children's games, baked goods, face painting and a crafts table.

Now in its fourth year, the pumpkin patch at St. Martin's has drawn increasing interest from the local community and generated significant funding for the Light House Shelter. Houck said the patch netted $11,000 in 2002, followed by $13,000 in 2003 and $15,000 in 2004.

Filling the jar

After its first weekend this year, the patch had already cleared more than $2,000 for charity, the jar of candy corn steadily filling.

"It's become kind of a tradition in Annapolis," Houck said.

Said Martha Boynton of Annapolis: "We've been getting our pumpkins here ever since it started."

Boynton visited the patch Sunday with her 11-year-old daughter, Catherine, who has volunteered there in previous years and plans to do so again this month.

"We like helping a good cause. It's nice to see them do so well," Boynton said.

The patch is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will run until Halloween.

Maze craze

In Lothian, Greenstreet Gardens is offering visitors the chance to pick up a pumpkin after wandering through a corn maze. This Saturday evening and again Oct. 29, the gardens' Moonlight Maze will be staffed by volunteers from Southern High School. Proceeds will support a new field house set for construction at the school, said Becky Benner, who works in the gardens' administrative offices.

During the day, families can pick up pumpkins at the gardens while younger children explore a slightly shorter Straw Maze. Both will be open until Oct. 30. Greenstreet Gardens just concluded its weekend fall festival, which featured face painting, hayrides and pony rides in addition to the traditional pumpkin-picking.

"Many people were just thrilled that there was something for the whole family to do," Benner said.

This year, area pumpkin patches have even been a treat for out-of-town visitors. Michael and Lisa Ogden of Corpus Christi, Texas, visited the Light House Shelter patch Sunday with their 2-year-old son, Gabriel. The family picked out a small pumpkin for a few dollars, painted it at the craft table and made a flour-and-water "squish" toy out of a black balloon. All of the children's crafts cost an extra $1, which is donated to charity.

"But frolicking in the pumpkins was free," Lisa Ogden said.

A rare treat

The Ogdens said they saw the St. Martin's pumpkin patch while visiting their parents in Annapolis and thought that it would be a fun - and rare - fall activity for their son. Leaving the patch, Gabriel clutched his "squish" while his father carried their hand- painted pumpkin.

"It's way too hot to do this in Texas right now," Lisa Ogden said.

"It's still 95 degrees in the shade."

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