Autumn has arrived at Missoula's doorstep, and pumpkin mania is in full swing.
Fresh-picked orange, green and white pumpkins aren't just the perfect décor for your porch this fall, though. When purchased from a handful of Missoula retailers participating in the "Pumpkins for the Pov" fundraiser, the gourds can also help feed the Garden City's homeless population.
For $10, Missoulians can purchase a locally-grown organic pumpkin to support the Poverello Center. Every dollar from pumpkin sales goes to the Pov's food programs, primarily benefiting the soup kitchen that serves 400 to 600 meals a day.
The event, now in its fourth year, was started after longtime Pov volunteer Erik Gibson-Snyder discussed with his wife the idea of planting pumpkins to donate.
This year, Gibson-Snyder, who has a background in organic farming, donated 1,500 pumpkins for the event, which are available for purchase at the Good Food Store, Rattlesnake Market, YMCA Missoula, The Trough, Imagine Nation Brewery and Parkside Credit Union.
On Thursday, Gibson-Snyder and Jesse Jaeger, the Poverello Center's director of development and advocacy, delivered a batch of pumpkins to Rattlesnake Market, placing them by the entrance to greet customers.
"We try to provide opportunities to our neighbors to support the Missoula community, even if they're not close to them," said Rattlesnake Market owner Karen Byrne.
Byrne said the store sold five or six pumpkins within the first hour they were delivered. Kevin Murray stopped by around noon to pick one up to carve with his 22-year-old daughter after she spotted them while grabbing her morning coffee.
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Jaeger said the Poverello Center is hoping to raise $30,000 from this year's event. Last year, "Pumpkins for the Pov" sold about 1,200 pumpkins and raised a total of $23,000, which included money from sponsors.
The Pov recently completed repairs from two floods over the summer that caused plumbing failures. The shelter was forced to close its kitchen for a few days in May after a backed-up drain seeped sewage into the basement ceiling and men's dormitory. On the night of reopening the dorm in June, it flooded again. The shelter fully reopened in September after extensive fundraising efforts and repairs that cost about $240,000.
The Pov didn't get much of a break, though, before people flooded its doors when winter arrived early in September. During the warmer months, the shelter sets capacity to 150 people per night, which it ups to 175 during the winter.
"This year we had to do that a month earlier than normal, so that has put pressure on the organization, and we do need financial support and also supply donations," Jaeger said.
Those supplies include toiletries, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and warm weather gear like hats, gloves and coats.
For the time being, temperatures are back to normal for fall in Missoula, and Missoulians still have time to make the most of the weather and attend a number of "Pumpkins for the Pov" events.
There will be a pop-up pumpkin patch at the University of Montana Homecoming Parade on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 9 a.m. to noon on the corner of Sixth Street and Higgins Avenue where people can purchase pumpkins, donuts and coffee to support the Pov. There will also be a pop-up event with kid-friendly activities at the Good Food Store from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19.
"We're just so thankful for the community for all their ongoing support, and we think that 'Pumpkins for the Pov' is a fun way to celebrate Halloween and also support the work that the Poverello is doing," Jaeger said.