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Gardener tickled pink by a successful fundraiser

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Stan Soltes stands in front of his now-empty garden, holding the very last of his pink pumpkins.

JORDAN THOMPSON/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS Enlarge Image

Stan Soltes stands in front of his now-empty garden, holding the very last of his pink pumpkins. Photo Store

Stan Soltes is tickled pink that he helped raise at least $5,000 for CancerCare Manitoba.

To coincide with the pink-themed Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, the south St. Vital resident sold pink pumpkins for cancer research in the parking lot at St. Vital Centre last week.

The event exceeded the former garment worker’s wildest expectations, as the sale was set to run from Oct. 3 to 14 (Thanksgiving Day) — but he sold his entire inventory of around 300 pink pumpkins in just two days. And it barely took another 48 hours to sell his remaining stash of regular and sugar pie pumpkins and butternut and spaghetti squash.

"It was fantastic. I’d consider it a success for our first kick of the can," said Soltes, whose wife is preparing to make a cheesecake out of his last remaining pink pumpkin.

"The popularity of the pumpkins makes it hard not to do it again next year. If I’m still on the green side of the grass, I’ll do it again."

The organization of the fundraiser was a family affair, but the event has become extremely close to Soltes’ heart since he came up with the idea last November.

He grew his crop in the backyard of his daughter Sherry, who lives on Forbes Road, south of the Perimeter. Then, in the summer, his daughter Debbie — who originally co-organized the event with him — was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour.

"When the story of our fundraiser went public, Debbie was in hospital in the midst of a really tough time and she was flooded with friends and well-wishers that wanted to help," Soltes said. "She went through four rounds of chemotherapy and she’s at home now. The tumour has shrunk considerably and she starts radiation treatment in the coming weeks, so she’s in a much better place."

Soltes noted that Debbie was well enough to spend five hours with him the day the pumpkin stand opened on Oct. 3 and he was overwhelmed by people’s generosity.

"There were people saying ‘I have no need for a pumpkin, but here’s $20.’ Another lady gave her $100. The support was amazing," Soltes said, noting officials at St. Vital Centre "bent over backwards to help us. I can’t thank them enough."

Soltes was originally inspired by a Minnesota farmer, Bert Bouwman, who has been harvesting thousands of pink pumpkins and donating 25 cents from every pumpkin sold to breast cancer research. He said the first pink pumpkin was discovered by a Colorado farmer in his field several years ago, who then began developing the seed.

And if growing pink pumpkins isn’t glamorous enough, Soltes unearthed a surprise when he harvested them.

"We encountered a fluke, as somewhere along the line, the seeds I bought must have been mixed, so I ended up with 30 pumpkins that were greenish-blue in colour, so people jumped on them," he said.

"I joked with CancerCare Manitoba that if they didn’t want us back, we could always donate to the children’s hospital, as we’d have pink for the girls and blue for the boys."

A final total of money raised wasn’t available at press time, but Soltes estimates it could be as much as $7,000 when factoring in all the extra donations.

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