©WFU/Mitchell Loll
©WFU/Mitchell Loll
Mitchell Loll

Project Pumpkin turns 29

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, over 550 children arrived on campus to delight in an array of candy, crafts and carnival games as part of the 29th annual Project Pumpkin.

“[This event] is truly providing a fun Halloween experience for elementary students and Wake Forest students to celebrate together,” said Head Pumpkin Mariana Linares.

Project Pumpkin is the beloved annual Halloween celebration on Hearn Plaza which hosts hundreds of kids ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade for an afternoon of festive activities and trick-or-treating. As Wake Forest’s oldest philanthropic event, it provides a safe environment for local kids to enjoy Halloween and facilitates an environment for Wake Forest students to connect with the Winston-Salem community.

In 1988, the original Head Pumpkin, Libby Bell, founded Project Pumpkin with friends from her freshman hall, Bostwick 2B, wanted to make a difference in the community. According to Wake Forest Magazine, about 125 local children attended that first year. 

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Costumed students took children trick-or-treating in Bostwick and Johnson. In following years, Project Pumpkin expanded to include all South Campus dorms. It was moved to the quad in 1995, where it has been held ever since. 

“Thinking about it as an adult now, I don’t know how we made it happen,” Bell said in a 2013 interview for Wake Forest Magazine. “It’s a testament to Wake Forest; I don’t think that could have happened at very many other schools.”

Project Pumpkin is now a beloved tradition and the largest student-service project at Wake Forest.

This year’s theme was Heroes vs. Villains, with Hearn Plaza split into two corresponding sides. Colored streamers draped the trees, a jovial parallel to the rolling of the quad and cardboard cut outs of icons like Wonder Women and the Joker decorated the event. 

Children arrived on school buses beginning at 3 p.m. They were checked in at Wait Chapel before being to paired with an escort.

Escorts are student volunteers who, with a partner, supervise around four children.  This provides a unique opportunity for Wake Forest students and elementary students to bond.

“It’s a great way to get involved,” said Keighley Nemickas, steering co-chair for Project Pumpkin. “It’s a low time commitment and you get to interact directly with the kids to really embody Pro Humanitate.”

These volunteers are the face of Project Pumpkin and imperative to event safety.  Over 300 escorts are responsible for ensuring that their assigned students are accounted for.

Upon exiting the Chapel, escorts ask students whether they want to begin their loop of the quad to the right towards villains, or to the left towards heroes. Students and their escorts stop at booths they find interesting to collect candy and other goodies.

About 80 percent of student organizations participated in Project Pumpkin by setting up different booths featuring everything from carnival games, to cookie decorating and canoe rides.

Two different haunted houses were constructed in the lounges of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Sigma Pi fraternity. 

While the haunted house has been a staple since the event was founded, several new traditions emerged this year.

“We had a donut truck handing out free donuts, [Sigma Alpha Epislon fraternity] gave hayrides around Davis circle and we had a local dance studio perform,” Linares said.

Throughout the afternoon there was a constant flow of entertainment from Wake Radio, a cappella groups, dance crews, and even the Spirit of the Old Gold and Black.

Each year Project Pumpkin pushes to reach more of the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem community. 

For the past several years, “plunges” have been organized for Wake Forest students travel to these schools and agencies in the weeks before the event for crafts.  In this setting, they really get to experience the process of bringing two communities together.

Participants themselves come from all over Winston-Salem, but many are underprivileged students living in areas where trick-or-treating is unsafe. Project Pumpkin provides a controlled alternative for them to participate in a Halloween celebration.

Many children come with their parents or family members.  Dressed in costume and enjoying the festivities, the adults are often as excited as the children.

Mary Warren’s eight year-old granddaughter was dressed as Sally from the Nightmare Before Christmas, and her six-year-old grandson was adorned in  spooky black robes with a pumpkin mask.  This is their second year participating, and said they love everything about the event, but especially interacting with Wake Forest students through games. 

“[Students] get so caught up with the Wake Forest bubble,” Linares said. “This event is a fun way to interact with the local community.”

When the kids finish collecting sweets, riding tractors and exploring haunted houses their escorts return them to Wait Chapel where junior Hunter Artz is one of the co-chairs waiting to check them out.

“My favorite part is seeing the kids afterwards with their candy and big smiles on their faces,” Artz said. “Just seeing them have fun makes all the time and hard work worth it.”

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