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Cheryl Arlem and Stephanie Milotte volunteered at C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene Tuesday to help giveaway 20,000 pumpkins in preparation for Saturday's Pumpkin Festival, which kicks off at noon downtown. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

Pumpkin wars begins in Keene with give-away of 20,000 pumpkins


KEENE -- C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene and Walpole gave away 20,000 pumpkins Tuesday to help the Keene Pumpkin Festival break the Guinness Book World Record for the most carved and lit pumpkins Saturday.

At the Keene C&S headquarters, a long line of vehicles wound through the parking lot and into the warehouse where the trunks of compact cars, backs of minivans and beds of pickup trucks were filled with the gourds.

Teachers from area elementary schools, community center directors and local firefighters were among the motorists pulling into the warehouse for a load of pumpkins. "It's great because we get to see everybody from the community," said volunteer Stephanie Milotte, who helped load pumpkins into vehicles.

Others who only wanted a few pumpkins parked and walked to an entrance to take pumpkins.

"I think it's cool. It's good for the people that want to carve a pumpkin, but can't afford it," said Sophia Severance of Swanzey, who picked out pumpkins with her 4-year-old daughter, Layla.

Westmoreland firefighter Chris Delavergne picked up 30 pumpkins as a surprise for his fellow firefighters.

Picking up 80 pumpkins and wearing a black and orange sweatshirt that says "Got Pumpkins," Marie Moody, coordinator of the Life Art Community Resource Center in Keene, said "We just love being a part of this."

The pumpkins will be carved as part of a free community program at the center, she said.

C&S Wholesale Grocers purchased the pumpkins from Newmont Farm in Bradford, Vt., where farmer Walt Gladstone tends a 150 acre-pumpkin patch each year.

As one of the pumpkin festival's sponsor's, C&S hopes the donation will help Keene win back the world record for the most carved and lit jack-o'-lanterns.

Those who picked up the free pumpkins are asked to return them carved with a candle at the festival on Saturday before 2:30 p.m. or Thursday or Friday before 2:30 p.m. at either Leon's Auto Center on Main Street or Fran's of Keene on Washington Street.

Organizers hope the 20,000 pumpkins give the festival the boost it needs to surpass the record for the most lit jack-o'-lanterns on display, which is 30,128 at a pumpkin festival held in Boston in 2006.

Organizer Let It Shine Inc. also has asked that attendees bring at least one pumpkin with them to the festival.

Keene originated the Guinness category in 1992 and has broken it eight times in the past.

The pumpkin festival is planned to run from noon to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.8mpierce@newstote.com

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