This year's Punkin Chunkin could be the last

Unique Sussex County event costs organizers as much as $450,000
August 10, 2017

The 32nd annual Punkin Chunkin may be the last one if organizers are not able to hook some major sponsors.

Without Science Channel, for years the main sponsor contributing 25 percent of needed funding, the Punkin Chunkin Championship Association is struggling, said President Frank Payton.

Thanks to a one-year reserve account and an aggressive fund-raising effort, this year's event – scheduled for Nov. 3, 4 and 5 at the Wheatley farm near Bridgeville – will go on as scheduled.

Science Channel, which broadcast the event as a Thanksgiving special, dropped its sponsorship last year following an air cannon accident that seriously injured producer Suzanne Dakessian. The channel did not air the special last Thanksgiving.

The event was cancelled in 2014 and 2015 due to insurance and logistics issues.

“The chunk will go on this year,” Payton said. “The volunteers are working hard to make sure that this tradition continues, but without an outpouring of support from sponsors, this could be the event’s last year.”

Payton said increased costs will probably deplete the group's emergency fund. “This leaves the group scrambling to figure out a way to save Punkin Chunkin and continue hosting this one-of-a-kind science event,” he said.

Payton said last year's event cost the association about $450,000. The budget got a boost with $125,000 from the Science Channel and $20,000 in state funds. In addition, he said, MSP Rentals provided $45,000 worth of rental equipment at no charge.

He said one of the largest expenses last year was $100,000 paid to Delaware State Police, Delaware Department of Transportation and Sussex County Emergency Medical Services.

There will be no funding from the network or state, and the rental company has been sold to another company that will assist at a lower level, Payton said.

A new sponsorship package – starting at $250 – has been established by the organization. “We learned our lesson from being dependent on a single entity for the majority of our funding. As much as we appreciated the relationship, we ended up suffering in the long run,” said Vice President David Quigley.

The association is a nonprofit, 100 percent volunteer-based organization focused on maintaining the tradition of chunking pumpkins that started in 1986 in a field in Lewes. The group says it is also committed to giving back to the community in the form of donations to other nonprofits and scholarships.

Terry Brewster, who has been treasurer for well over a decade, said the group has donated over $1 million to community organizations since 2000.

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