Project Pumpkin returns to Hearn Plaza

Weather and the COVID-19 pandemic have kept the event off of the Quad since 2019


Katie Fox

Wake Forest students welcome children from the wider Winston-Salem community to campus in 2019 for Project Pumpkin.

Elisabeth Rollins, Contributing Writer

It’s late October; the leaves have begun their annual shift to a compelling shade of crimson and the temperature outside calls for cozy sweaters and nights spent cuddled up under a warm blanket, watching fall films. You spent weeks searching for the perfect Halloween costume, and tonight’s the night you get to show it off. You put your costume on, all the while, thinking about how, in mere hours, you will indulge in some delicious candy while participating in the age-old activity of trick-or-treating. 

We’ve all been there, and we all secretly wish we could go back to it. The excitement that surrounds Halloween as a child is unmatched. There’s something about the sticky, candy-coated fingers, the spooky neighborhood decorations and the myriad costumes that create a kind of magic in a child’s mind. Project Pumpkin aims to produce magical memories just like these, with added educational and philanthropic elements. 

“I hope just to see happy faces, smiling faces, and people that are actually enjoying themselves,” says Alyssa Goldstein, student director for project pumpkin. She hopes that the event, which aims to raise funds for the Freedom School—a reading literacy-based summer enrichment program that brings kids from the Winston-Salem area on campus for six weeks—will be one for the books and will help to inaugurate a new era for the philanthropic project. 

Project Pumpkin, according to Goldstein, is “one of the big three fundraising-related events that happen on campus.” It was started by Wake Forest student Libby Bell (’93) in 1988. For the past 33 years, the event has allowed students from elementary and middle schools in the Winston-Salem area to trick-or-treat, interact with Wake Forest students, make crafts and engage in educational activities on Hearn Plaza. 

The past few years have proved difficult for Project Pumpkin though, with inclement weather and COVID-19 forcing the event off of the quad for the past three years. 

“Nobody on campus at the moment, current undergraduate students, has ever experienced a normal Project Pumpkin—and that’s the big thing,” says Goldstein. 

“We are rewriting the program, trying to get it back to what it once was,”  Annie Russell, internal volunteer coordinator for Project Pumpkin, said.

This year, Project Pumpkin aims to not only return to Hearn Plaza but also to extend to multiple off-campus locations. 

“We wanted to continue that connection [in the Winston-Salem area] and promote Wake Forest students going into the community that they’re living in for four years,” Russell said. 

The inclusion of off-campus events also stands to directly benefit those in the greater Winston-Salem community.

“We gained a lot from doing [Project Pumpkin] off campus,”  Olivia Olsen, Project Pumpkin’s quad operations manager, said. “It allows us to reach more people and be more accessible based on the children and family’s needs surrounding the event.” 

The on-campus event will take place on Oct. 25 while the off-campus events will take place on Oct. 27.

The event is structured so that students, campus clubs, Greek Life organizations and departments can set up themed booths around Hearn Plaza. This year, Project Pumpkin hopes to have 60 booths participating in the event. It’s not just booths that can get in on the action, though; students who go through special training can volunteer to escort the visiting kids from booth to booth.For Olsen, this is one of the best parts of the event.

“I did Project Pumpkin when I was a freshman and I walked the kids around; and it was probably one of my favorite experiences as a Wake student so far.” 

Another fun part of the event is the theme—this year’s is storybooks. 

“We wanted to connect with the message behind Freedom School, and promoting literacy,” Russell said. “We thought there was no better way than with a storybook theme.” 

This year’s theme encourages participating students and organizations to create booths that resemble classic fairy tales—some examples are teaching the importance of trees, as inspired by the story of “The Lorax”, or having an activity where kids throw balls and knock ‘brick houses’ down based on the “Three Little Pigs”. 

Another new addition to this year’s event: a haunted house in one of the residence halls. 

“It probably won’t be as scary as 21 year olds are used to, but the idea is to make it perfect for six and seven year olds,” Olsen said.“They just get to walk through and might get a few jumpscares here and there.” The haunted house will be located in Sigma Pi’s lounge in Taylor. 

It’s not just the Project Pumpkin executive board and the expected 400 to 500 elementary and middle school students that are excited about the events – current Wake Forest students are too. 

“I am so excited for my first, real Project Pumpkin on the quad,” junior Marylee Muscari said. 

Sophomore Kate Hafer agrees.

 “Project Pumpkin is an amazing opportunity for the student body to give back to a subset of the Winston-Salem community.” And give back they will. This year, the event is hoping to raise around $5,000 for the Freedom School.

There are many reasons one could look forward to Project Pumpkin, but for Smartt, one reason stands out among the rest.

“I think seeing the kids having fun is going to be the main thing that makes me feel like we have an impact; seeing them have fun, running around campus, and just having a good time. I like when people have a smile on their face.”