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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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NAPI And Non-Profits Are Pumpkin Partners
by Alysa Landry - Special to the Navajo Times

SEWICKLEY, PA - The 172-foot steeple on the United Methodist Church is a landmark in this small western Pennsylvania town.

The church is something from a picture postcard; the bell in its tower has chimed almost every hour for the last 130 years.

Yet every October, people in this town of 4,000 residents flock to the church for a different reason -- thousands of plump, orange pumpkins grown on the Navajo Nation.

The church is one of 1,300 locations in 48 states to participate in a profit-sharing fundraiser with Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, also known as NAPI.

For the last decade, the lawn outside Sewickley United Methodist Church has been transformed into a "pumpkin patch."

"People come here to have their pictures taken," said Barry Lewis, former pastor of the church, who was volunteering Saturday at the pumpkin patch. "We have brides and grooms who have their wedding photos taken here, among this sea of orange."

Every year a semi-trailer makes the 1,500-mile journey from NAPI to Sewickley and volunteers form an assembly line to unload the crop, Lewis said.

This year's crop included nearly 2,500 pumpkins of varying sizes.

So many pumpkins arrived that they covered the lawn bordering two sides of the church.

The church sells the pumpkins throughout October, bringing in about $15,000 yearly.

Two-thirds of the profit is returned to the Navajo Nation, where it is used to pay workers and cover costs of operation. The remaining proceeds go to the church for programs or services, Lewis said.

For more than a month, the church lawn is covered in a layer of straw with pumpkins strewn on top. Children climb on the bigger ones, sometimes tumbling over or through them.

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