This story originally appeared in the Telegraph Herald.
In the spring of 2010, pastor Shane Koepke, of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in La Motte, Iowa, issued a challenge to every member of his church council. “I gave them all $20 and them to make it grow,” he recalled. Koepke’s challenge has yielded more growth than the pastor could have ever imagined—and La Mott farmer Lynn Sanders is a big reason why.
Sanders took the $20 from the church treasury in 2010 and used it to purchase pumpkin seeds. He had devoted a portion of his farmland in each of the last five years to growing pumpkins and gourds. Each year Sanders and members of his immediate family—including his wife Julia, and three children—have planted and picked the crops together and then displayed them in flatbeds at the St. Paul’s Church parking lot.
Local residents are invited to take them and donate whatever money they can. “We get lots of pennies and nickels and dimes from little kids cleaning out their piggy banks, which is great, “ he said. “There’s no reason for a kid to go without a fall decoration.” Sanders has also seen sizable donations, including multiple checks of $40 or $50 and one contribution of $100. The donations ultimately contribute to St. Paul’s annual fall fundraiser, which has benefited four different charities over the past five years.
This year, the church raised more than $4,000 to benefit Hospice of Jackson County. The annual fundraising totals have grown steadily since 2010, when church members generated just over $1,200. Sanders is quick to note that all members of the congregation take part in the fall fundraising effort. “It really takes everybody’s help to make it happen,” Sanders said. “Growing pumpkins has been my family’s role. There is another couple that makes great turkey and dressing sandwiches. There are other people who are very good at making crafts. Everyone helps in their own way.”
Each year’s fall fundraiser kicks off with an annual luncheon, where crafts and baked goods are available for donations. Koepke said he is proud of the way his small congregation, which consists of around 25 members, has made a large impact on their local community.
He noted that church members play a key role in every part of the process, including selecting the annual charity, creating a variety of goods to be sold, and then soliciting the actual donations. “Everything we bring in is free-will donations. People can just give whatever they want and it all ends up going directly to the charity,” Koepke said. “None of this money is going back to the church or being used for any other causes.”
While Sanders enjoys the end-result of his contribution, he also has learned to appreciate the process of growing the pumpkins and gourds. He said his family has improved when it comes to planting and harvesting the crop each and every year. “Pumpkins are kind of a fussy crop. They don’t like it too dry and they don’t like it too wet. But we’ve been planting a little more ground each year and we’ve gotten better at doing it each time,” he said.
Over the years, all five of the Sanders’ immediate family have adopted their own role in the process: Lynn prepares the land for plant; his wife carries the tray with the seeds; his two daughters, Emma and Anna take turns planting the seed, and his son Austin “covers” the seeds with dirt. The collaborative effort has led to increasingly impressive results.
The Sanders family initially devoted just one acre to the annual pumpkin planting, but that area had grown to about two acres this year. This year alone, the sanders family yielded over 1,000 pumpkins to contribute to the fall fundraiser—a figure that could keep rising in the years to come. “It’s great to do this with my family, it’s a great thing that the whole church comes together, and it feels good knowing that this money is going to charity,” Sanders said.