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By S.L. Hansen
NORTH PLATTE (SNR) - The 21st annual pumpkin festival at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Platte will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 9.
Festivities include games, pony rides, hayrack rides, a silent auction, raffle and the ever-popular “pumpkin chucker.”
What is a pumpkin chucker? “It’s sort of a catapult,” explained Father Mark Seiker, pastor of the parish.
In addition to the fun and games, there will be plenty of food to enjoy. Father Seiker said the multiple food booths include “Country Kitchen,” a grill, “Indian tacos” and Mexican options. There also will be snacks like candy, and a bake sale will satisfy virtually any kind of sweet tooth.
Over the last 21 years, the pumpkin festival has grown as the fledgling parish started out raising money to build first a hall and then a church. Situated on the southern edge of North Platte, the church looks out onto a field that will serve as the landing area for the chucked pumpkins.
Father Seiker said the festival draws people from all over the area, including Catholics who attend the two other North Platte parishes that operate under the direction of the Diocese of Grand Island, as well as many non-Catholics.
“Years ago, the parish started buying those little shelter tents, like a canopy you park your car under,” he said. “First they bought five, and then after a few years they said that wasn’t enough, so they bought four more. And then a few years after that, they bought five more.”
Those 14 tents accommodate the games and most of the food booths on the grassy area behind the church building. Inside the hall, items for the silent auction and bake sale are on display, as well as a booth of faith-building literature and objects for sale.
That’s one of the unique aspects about the pumpkin festival: parish organizers are conscious that it is an opportunity to evangelize. For the last 10 years, they have made a concerted effort to take advantage of that opportunity in a kind, compassionate, generous way.
Faith-related giveaways are one way to do this. Father Seiker said he hoped the committee was able to get something related to Divine Mercy this time – such as a refrigerator magnet - since it is the Year of Mercy.
The festival will take place rain or shine.
“Being early October, we never know what we’re going to get,” Father Seiker smiled.
In past years, the festival has had fine weather, chilly temperatures, blustery winds and even rain once or twice. Back in 2009, 15-18 inches of snow were dumped on North Platte the Friday and Saturday before the festival.
A meeting for the many parishioners who help put on the festival was hastily convened on Saturday. They decided to go ahead and have the festival in the parish hall.
“That was when we were celebrating Mass in the hall because the church wasn’t built yet,” Father Seiker said with a chuckle. “We had Mass in the hall, and then with the help of all the parishioners, in 10 minutes, it was transformed from Mass into pumpkin festival. And people came!”
Proceeds from the festival were originally used to start the building fund for the church. Since its dedication in 2011, proceeds are now used to pay back the building loan from the diocese that enabled construction to begin.
“We’ve been able to whittle the loan down to under $500,000,” Father Seiker reported, citing the pumpkin festival as well as the Joy of the Gospel campaign as key sources of revenue.
Some years ago, festival organizers also felt it was important to set aside 10% of the pumpkin festival earnings for local charities. North Platte’s Women’s Resource Center, which enables mothers in crisis pregnancy to choose life for their babies, a local food pantry and a parish fund that sends youth to Leadership Camp or Campin’ with the Marians have all been helped with pumpkin festival dollars.
For more information about the festival, click on the orange “Pumpkin Festival” button on the parish website: www.seas-np.org.