ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – What began as a labor-intensive, family-friendly fundraiser has turned into a headache for the owner of a pumpkin patch who said the fundraising effort was impacted by thievery and vandalism.
Chandy Evans owns and runs the pumpkin patch called Happy Haunts. It’s a small enclosed area on the property of the Faith Community Church located on State Road 210.
Evans and her family moved from Southern California to Florida two years ago and decided this year they wanted to do something fun before Halloween that could also help raise money for a worthy cause.
“The whole point of me doing all this was to bring something to the community that was family-friendly and good for kids because there’s just really nothing around here, and we were also donating some of it to homeless vets,” Evans said.
Evans comes from a family of retired military veterans, so she says she has a soft spot in her heart for veterans who are homeless.
“There are just too many that struggle with PTSD, being homeless and a lot of issues, so if we could do anything to help them, whether if it’s just giving them some food, we just wanted to do something to make a difference,” Evans said.
People who donated nonperishable food would get a free small pumpkin in return. The rest of the pumpkins inside Happy Haunts are for sale, with some of the money from those sales paying for the cost of operations and the rest going to homeless veterans, along with the donated food. Also, a portion of the money being raised is expected to go toward the family of Tristyn Bailey, the 13-year-old girl who was found stabbed to death this past spring not far from the current location of the pumpkin patch.
But on Monday afternoon while Happy Haunts was closed, Evans said, someone broke through the front gate and took an estimated 200 pumpkins, 10 of which were found smashed in the church parking lot.
“They took pumpkins of all sizes, but after damages and what they stole, it equates to about $2,000,” Evans said.
In addition to pumpkins being stolen and damaged, many of the Halloween props that took 30 days to put together were either torn down or damaged. Evans showed News4Jax an inflatable Halloween prop that was ripped and required pieces of tape to keep air from escaping and causing the prop to deflate.
“My entire family worked really hard. We painted every prop. We cut them. I mean, we did everything by hand, so it was definitely upsetting to come in here and see someone had messed with it all,” Evans said.
Evans said she will never forget the moment when she arrived to open Happy Haunts for business Monday afternoon and saw the unthinkable.
“I was really shocked when I got here, but really I was just devastated that someone in the community would do that to us. When I first got here, I noticed there were pumpkins in the parking lot — which I thought was weird. Then when I drove up here, I noticed my gate had been ripped open and it looked like someone used the pumpkins as soccer balls. They were just all over the place. Some were crushed. The wheel barrels were upside down. Everything was just a mess,” Evans said.
What’s even more heartbreaking for Evans is the fact that she and her family had to travel a far distance to get the pumpkins due to a nationwide pumpkin shortage that is greatly impacting certain areas of the country.
“We actually picked them up in North Carolina and drove them down here because it’s really hard to find pumpkins in Florida and Georgia,” Evans said.
Evans wants the person or people responsible to fully understand the impact of what they did.
“It’s not just hurting me and my business, it’s hurting our community and it’s hurting the people who wanted to come here and support the vets, as well,” Evans said.
Evans filed a complaint with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and it’s unclear if deputies have identified any suspects.