On Oct. 7, 2018, Isella Gallesi, from Athens, Georgia, runs around the pumpkin patch as she chooses which one to take home. Milledge Baptist Church holds its annual pumpkin patch sale where proceeds go to the local community. Located off South Milledge, it’s opened everyday from 2 p.m.-8 p.m.  (Photo by Daniela Rico; dr11576@uga.edu)

Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, also known as The Pumpkin Church, is once again hosting its annual pumpkin patch. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for the patch this year that have resulted in changes, disappointments and pleasant surprises.

The pumpkin patch has been a tradition of the church since 2007. Ginny Dempsey, an associate pastor for students at the church, said the pumpkin patch has not only become a key source of funding for the church but also a core part of the church’s identity.

“We try really hard to make it an experience that people enjoy and appreciate, and it’s a way for us to show God’s love through our pumpkin patch,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey said the church usually makes between about $19,000-25,000 a year. This is 40% of the total profits, with the rest going to its contracted partner, Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers.

Despite the pandemic, Dempsey said this year was not disappointing financially. In fact, demand has been dramatically higher this year.

“I think it’s because it’s something normal that people can do”, Dempsey said, “It’s outdoors, there’s social distancing, there’s masks. We tried to make it as safe as we can, and so many kids are home anymore that it gives parents a wonderful opportunity to bring their kids outside.”

COVID-19 precautions at the pumpkin patch include free hand sanitizers, a mask requirement and a contact-free checkout. Checkout now has a chip reader and does not require a signature.

The church has also reduced the amount of contact with its delivery of pumpkins. It now uses a pallet jack to unload the pumpkins rather than the daisy-train system it has used in years prior.

“I’ve seen a great turnout with mask wearers too, which we’re very pleased by,” said Christopher Adams, an employee at the patch.

During a typical year, the money the church received would go towards its programs such as a youth ministry, Vacation Bible Camp and supplies for the choir, as well as local groups affiliated with the church.

The funding will still be used to support such programs, but developments with COVID-19 will determine when the money can be used. The church had to cancel many of the programs this year that the previous patch’s earnings would have been used for. However, it was still able to host some programs virtually, such as the music scholar program.

Of all the things it would usually host with the earnings from patch this year, Dempsey said she missed field trips the most. These field trips would be offered for free to Athens-Clarke County students, and they would be able to enjoy music, arts and crafts, storytelling and of course buying $1 pumpkins. The pandemic has meant the field trips had to be canceled this year.

“I’ve definitely missed that and I hope that next year we’re able to bring that back,” Dempsey said.

The pumpkin patch is open from Sunday through Friday from noon-8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

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