Once a year, on the holiday known as "Halloween", American parents tell their kids it’s okay to take candy from strangers; as they go from door to door in costume in the traditional practice called "Trick or Treat." And once a year, one big guy, who is a kid at heart, goes in for another Halloween tradition, on a scale that is hard to believe. .
American kids play dress-up for candy once each year. But Joel Keefer serves up his own Halloween tradition.
"Buying giant pumpkins, putting them on our porch, carving them and lighting them up with as much light as we can fit inside for Halloween for the kids," he said.
He says kids of all ages tell him they remember Halloween pumpkins at the Keefer house. And it always draws a crowd. "My neighbors want us to subsidize their candy purchases because we get so many kids to see the pumpkin that they also go to their houses," he said.
For nearly 2 decades, Keefer has carved giant pumpkins for neighborhood kids. His first pumpkin weighed more than 200 kilograms (450lbs). This year’s gourd is more than three times as big, tipping the scales at 637.3 kilograms (1,405 lb). "I look for the one that has the prettiest face; that gives me the biggest canvas to paint something on," he said.
Keefer loves this time of year, but leaves the growing to the experts. "I don’t have the time or the commitment to do that. That’s done by very dedicated farmers and pumpkin growers in Canfield, Ohio," he said.
So he drives nearly 240 kilometers (150 miles) to Ohio and back, and then it takes 7 guys, a dump truck AND a forklift to get the monstrosity on his porch. All of this comes at considerable cost. "When you’re doing stuff for charity or for the fun of it… money doesn’t matter. If you thought with your wallet, some things wouldn’t be possible. If you’re going to try to stay on a confined budget, you would never end up with a pumpkin like this… because they’re not cheap," he said.
But it’s more than just fun for the neighborhood. It’s also about giving back. Keefer plans on asking adults who pose for photos to make donations this year -- for a charity that provides warm coats for children and the homeless. "And my company, Keelan Brothers Tree Services, is going to match whatever we collect," he said.
It takes a team of carvers and gutters, but the whole community jumps in, literally.
"It’s fun. It’s like being a little kid again, just getting in the pumpkin and being all slimed-up. It’s great," said neighbor Dana Riggs.
"The incredible part is: we get people from all over the city that come back every year from 30, 40, 50 miles away to see what we have this year," said Keefer.
And what they have this year is, great fun and a good cause for the community. A Halloween tradition that has become larger than the holiday itself because of a big man with a big heart, and a big pumpkin.