By CHARITY B. SMITH
Sunday Times Newspapers
The Elks Lodge, 6605 Park Ave, will host its 27th annual Pumpkin Patch Party with the theme “Panic on Park Avenue” for the developmentally disabled from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 31.
“In 1989 I proposed doing the party to the city council,” said event organizer Mark Bailey, owner of McNally’s Shoes. “I gave a 20-year commitment. I remember one of the councilmen said, ‘No one commits to 20 years,’ and now I’m going on 27.”
Bailey said a lot of his customers are developmentally disabled and it seemed like the right thing to do.
“I have tons of group homes and other organizations calling me asking if they can be added to my list, and of course I say yes and make room,” Bailey said. “For most of these people it is one of the few outings they get during the year. They live a very secluded life.”
The event costs about $3,000 a year to do and is put together through donations from more than 200 local organizations that donate time, money and merchandise to the cause.
The Henry Ford in Dearborn for example donates all the carved pumpkins from its trick-or-treat event to the Pumpkin Patch Party. Bailey said he has well over 1,000 carved pumpkins outside the lodge right now, along with all the high school homecoming floats, which are redecorated for the party.
Air Gas donates 500 pounds of dry ice every year.
“The whole street is fogged up,” Bailey said of Park Avenue on the night of the event.
Funeral homes even donate flowers that people don’t want to take home.
“Some people even request that flowers from so-and-so’s funeral go to the Pumpkin Patch Party,” Bailey said.
The Elks party inside the lodge hosts 80 developmentally disabled people and their caregivers from the Downriver area each year, including one married couple, who Bailey believes to be physically in their 80’s that have attened for the last 20 years.
“It’s a tear jerker when you go into the Elks hall and see all these adults in costume having the time of their lives,” Bailey said.
The outdoor party is open to the public at no cost, and not tickets are required.
An old fashioned candlelight trick-or-treat at local businesses as well as the area neighborhoods will be featured. A man from the Kiwanis Club will haunt the abandoned dry cleaners on Park and pass out peanuts to those who dare to enter.
Clyde “Creepy Clyde” Brown, a local singer and musician who hosts horror movies for radio and TV stations in the area, will make his annual appearance at the event.
Music will be provided by a disc jockey and local bands.
“The local neighborhoods around Park Avenue get hit hard every year, by trick-or-treaters,” Bailey said. “Every year we see between 7,000 and 10,000 people. Many of the handicapped guests from the party join in the outdoor festivities as well.”
“This family event has become one of the largest Halloween parties Downriver, quite possibly in the entire state of Michigan, with activities for kids of all ages to enjoy,” Mayor Bill Matakas said in a letter to residents and businesses.
Donations are being accepted. Those interested in donating caned food, materials or prizes can take them them to McNally’s Shoes, 6621 Park Ave. Items that advertise businesses such as pens, stickers, etc are welcomed as well.
Monetary donations can be sent to: Allen Park Elks Pumpkin Patch, C/O Mark Bailey, McNallly Shoes, 6621 Park Ave., Allen Park, MI, 48101.
All those who contribute will be listed on the Pumpkin Patch supporters list which is distributed throughout the Downriver area.
(Charity B. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)