Pumpkin Festival raises the bar to generate funds for nonprofits.
For 27 years, Jim Baar has been creating and building games for thousands of people to play at the Hunsader Farms’ annual Pumpkin Festival.
He made the beanbag toss out of a large, wooden sun that was once used for a float in a Gene Witt Elementary School parade when his kids were attending the school. The sunglasses for the sun still have “Gene Witt” painted on them.
“Instead of throwing it away, I turned it into a game,” Baar said.
Starting 27 years ago with 10 games, the festival, which begins its three-weekend run Oct. 12, now includes 22 games Baar has built, ranging from the Hillbilly Quick Draw to the Hillbilly Fishin’ game to hockey to cornhole.
“They’re all made to look old school,” Baar said. “When you come play these games, you’re not going to see a lot of metal or a lot of electronic stuff.”
Baar, his neighbor Bill Stenger and occasionally a few other volunteers spend two-and-a-half months putting together the more than 1,000 pieces that make up the games as well as placing the more than 500 cornstalks and 70 hay bales used to decorate the game area.
The hours of work put into creating the fun, country-style atmosphere and games is all worth it to Baar and Stenger because every dollar someone spends to play a game goes toward the organizations that run each game.
“I think this year, just in the games, we’ll probably approach $580,000 that we put back into the community at $1 a play,” Baar said. “We will go through about 12,000 prizes at the redemption tent. It’s pretty wild.”
Baar has a personal connection to several of the nonprofits and organizations — including the Children’s Dream Fund, All Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Cancer Center, Special Olympics and Foundation for Dreams — because they provided services and assistance when his sons, Matthew and Joey, had cancer.
The Children’s Dream Fund helped to make Matthew’s dream of going to Hawaii and Joey’s dream of participating in Give Kids the World, which is a trip to Disney World.
This year, the Hunsader family is working to fund a child’s dream to see all the princesses at Disney World and will be the 10th dream the family has funded.
“We try to do our part to at least be able to do one every year,” Baar said. “I’d love to have somebody stuff the box with enough money to do two or three.”
Stenger, who was principal at Robert Willis Elementary School, said students from Manatee, Palmetto and Lakewood Ranch high schools look forward to volunteering at the festival each year.
Lakewood Ranch High School will have volunteers from its National Honor Society, Student Government Association and Lakewood Leaders.
“The Manatee Education Foundation always puts the funds to good use supporting schools,” Stenger said. “I think everybody knows that supporting schools is something that we need to do.”
Throughout the festival, Baar said, “it’s all about the kids having a good time and the organizations making some money.”