The Great Pumpkin Challenge Is Coming To Main Street—
Changing The World, One Great Pumpkin At A Time
By Shannon Hicks
Mackenzie Page is already receiving “very enthusiastic” response, she says, from friends she has invited to take part in The Great Pumpkin Challenge. Now the Newtown Middle School eighth grade student is now hoping residents of all ages will join her in an event that will bring a truckload (she hopes…) of carved pumpkins to her family’s home on Main Street just in time for Halloween.
While the jack-o’-lanterns will offer costumed trick-or-treaters something to view and admire on October 31, the collection will also serve as a fundraiser. A small donation for each pumpkin received at the Page household will be divided between the American Cancer Society and the family of Zoe McMorran, a family friend of Mackenzie’s who was recently diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a very aggressive form of brain cancer.
Mackenzie is the organizer of The Great Pumpkin Challenge. Residents are invited to visit her home at 14 Main Street on Saturday or Sunday, October 29–30, and drop off their carved pumpkins. Mackenzie is also requesting a $4 donation for each pumpkin.
“Zoe is being cared for with the latest medicine, but cancer treatment is very expensive,” the 13-year old wrote in a letter she sent to The Bee recently. “She has asked everyone to be not an optimist, but an opZOmist … Thinking about ways to be opZOmistic, I became inspired.”
Seated at the family table in the kitchen of her home recently, Mackenzie shared more of her thoughts on her friend, the recent news, and what she is doing to add to Halloween in Newtown.
Zoe and her family, including identical twin sister Avery, live just outside Boston. Mackenzie’s mother Liz, and Zoe and Avery’s father Pat, went to high school together, and that friendship has continued as each friend became married and started their families. The McMorrans visited the Pages most recently over the summer break from school. No one had any idea of the major change that was coming.
“These girls were here over the summer,” said Liz Page. “They’re active little girls, cheerleaders. The kids were running around the backyard, doing somersaults. It’s crazy that they’ve gone from that to this.”
“This” is the diagnosis of Zoe’s brain tumor the McMorran family received at the end of August. The fifth grader reportedly told her parents she was not feeling well one day, and within a week test results unveiled the frightening news. Zoe is already being treated with chemotherapy and radiation, along with some physical therapy to deal with some paralysis.
Liz and Alan Page shared the news with their family over Labor Day weekend. The family was still without power following Tropical Storm Irene a week earlier, remembers Mackenzie, and everyone — including younger brother Baxter and older brothers Riley and Mason — was together at the kitchen table.
“My mom was in tears. I broke down too, when she told me,” said Mackenzie. “I was really sad, obviously, but also devastated. It’s unfair that this little girl should get this. I can’t wrap my head around this.”
“The parents, and Zoe, are so optimistic,” Liz Page was quick to add. “She is a really determined kid. There is no ‘Why me?’ attitude. It’s almost infectious.”
That positive attitude has obviously reached Newtown, moving Mackenzie into action. In her recent letter to the editor, Mackenzie said she wanted “to find a cure, so that nobody else will have to suffer from cancer.”
At her house recently, she continued that thought.
“I wanted to donate money and being a kid I don’t really have a lot of money to spend,” she said. “So I came up with something I could do to raise money.”
The Page family has been doing pumpkin creations for Halloween for the past two years. In 2009 the family created a display of “Angry Pumpkins,” said Mackenzie, that looked like one pumpkin was throwing others across the yard. Last year it was a scorpion pumpkin that was set up for trick-or-treaters.
The displays at 14 Main Street have joined others by residents along the main thoroughfare, from extravagant creations that have taken up the entire front porch of the duplex at 5 Main Street to Charlotte, the oversize spider and her web that has covered the front of the house and lawn at Hillbrow, 74 Main Street, for a number of years, and a number of equally dazzling displays along Main Street.
With her home situated within the popular destination for trick-or-treaters, Mackenzie decided to take advantage of the audience that is already expected to pass in front of her house in on Halloween.
“We already have the resources,” she said. “We have 3,000 kids who visit Main Street, so I thought ‘Let’s do something that can help here as well as others with cancer.’
“It will also be something new, a different twist to Halloween on Main Street,” she added. “A lot of people like carving pumpkins. I thought it would be very cool. People can see them along their walk on Main Street, look for theirs and point them out to others. I wanted to do something positive, and with Halloween approaching, this seemed to be perfect.”
The plan is to have shelving, or bleachers, set up behind the iron fence that runs between the sidewalk and front yard of the Page home for the pumpkins, which will allow the pumpkins to be displayed up from the ground and in staggered rows. The jack-o’-lanterns will be illuminated from within by large Christmas lights. The Pages would love to hear from anyone who can spare some planking and/or strings of lights to help with the presentation.
“I really hope we get a lot of pumpkins,” said Mackenzie.
She and her family have been visiting Castle Hill Farm on Sugar Lane the past few Sundays, and plan to continue to do the same on October 23 and 30. They have been talking about The Great Pumpkin Challenge, and answering questions about its background. One gentleman who was at the farm a few weeks ago gave her her first donation.
“He told me he had heard me talking with [Steve and Diana Paproski, the owners of Castle Hill Farm] and he wanted to do something to help,” she said, smiling. The anonymous man handed Mackenzie $10.
After submitting a letter to The Bee that introduced herself and her project, Mackenzie received her second donation. A Newtown resident, the grandmother of three children in the school system, said she was impressed by Mackenzie’s letter and sent a check for $50.
Mackenzie and her family have also heard from folks who have accepted the challenge.
“We have heard about neighborhood parties, where groups of neighbors are getting together to work on their pumpkins for this event,” Liz Page said last week. “We have also been told that at least one Sunday School plans to be doing this as part of a craft project.”
While she is spearheading the project and receiving plenty of support from her family, Mackenzie is also receiving help from Newtown High School sophomore Hope McMorran, a cousin of Zoe.
In addition, for those who cannot drop off a pumpkin and donation, or who would like to just make a donation for The Great Pumpkin Challenge, Newtown Savings Bank has set up an account for the project. Donations can be dropped off at any NSB branch, or checks can be made out to The Great Pumpkin Challenge and mailed to Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470.
“My goal is to bring the community of Newtown together with this exciting new tradition,” Mackenzie wrote in the letter that launched her project. “By being a part of The Great Pumpkin Challenge, everyone will have a fun time, but can also help many people along the road to a cure.
“My challenge to each of you is this: Will you ‘get your pumpkin on’ and become an opZOmist? We can change the world, one pumpkin at a time!”
Pumpkins and donations for The Great Pumpkin Challenge should be dropped off at 14 Main Street on Saturday and Sunday, October 29–30, between noon and 6 pm. For additional information visit www.GreatPumpkinChallenge.org or send a note to mackenzie@GreatPumpkinChallenge.org.