While on a drive through Connecticut one Sunday morning with his family, founder Ron Lamontagne was brainstorming ideas on how to spread epilepsy awareness. The local pumpkin patch provided the solution. Since kids would soon be carving and decorating pumpkins, he thought why not make one purple and tell people about epilepsy when asked, “Why is your pumpkin purple?”
Why is Ron’s pumpkin purple?
Ron’s youngest son was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2009 at the age of four. Since the diagnosis, Ron has seen how epilepsy impacted his son. Although he appears like an average kid on the surface, his son has experienced major challenges academically, physically and socially. Additionally, the misperceptions and fear about epilepsy have impacted relationships in the family.
Although Ron has been outspoken about the challenges his son faces, many people still choose to keep their seizures private. By raising awareness, Ron hopes to support those people and increase overall awareness of epilepsy.
How did it start…?
Ron started the Purple Pumpkin Project Facebook page on September 2, 2012. Within two days, the page had likes in all 50 states; it reached more than 500 likes in the first three days. Ten days later, the page surpassed 1,000 likes, and photos of many people’s purple pumpkins started pouring in.
Interest in the Facebook page sparked the participation of three different families who created purple scarecrows for a community event in support of the Purple Pumpkin Project (PPP) and epilepsy awareness. In a short time, PPP events started popping up unexpectedly, including:
Events hosted at Farmington, Connecticut's elementary after school program and alternative high school
Two events hosted by the Northeast Regional Epilepsy Group in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Middletown, New York
A pumpkin decorating event in support of a student at St. Michaels Elementary School in St. Michaels, Maryland
By mid-October, 2012, the majority of the followers for the PPP Facebook page were located in the U.S. However, there were also quite a few followers from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The PPP Facebook page even reached a few people in Ireland, Germany, Romania, India, Mexico, Sweden, Singapore, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Denmark, Belgium, Bangladesh, Uruguay and even Cape Verde and the Marshall Islands.
On October 21, 2012, Ron and a few friends from the Epilepsy Foundation Connecticut’s parent support group organized the first official Purple Pumpkin Project Event. The event brought in many more people than was expected. State Senator Terry Gerratana stopped by and personally wished the PPP well. NBC 30 News also sent a crew to interview and video for a news clip for the evening news. The event unexpectedly raised roughly $800 for the Epilepsy Foundation Connecticut through unsolicited donations.
The events also sparked people to share their own stories. People spoke about the positive impact of their brain surgery and about keeping their seizures secret out of fear. A family in Northern New England shared about the difficulties they were experiencing with their daughter’s school and about not getting the services she needed to be successful in school. People talked about relatives who struggled with seizures and even spoke about family members lost due to seizures. After seeing her school support the PPP, a high school junior was brave enough to start sharing with her friends about her absence seizures and need for extra help instead of writing it off as being a "ditsy blonde" as she had for so many years. PPP events presented an opportunity to talk about the stigma of epilepsy and the impact epilepsy has had on each person’s life.
The Farmington Alternative High School held their second annual decorating in 2013. After decorating their pumpkins, the school delivered their pumpkins to local businesses to raise epilepsy awareness.
The PPP was featured for the second year at the Berlin Scarecrow Festival.
Shepard Salem Free Mason Lodge in Naugatuck, Connecticut, hosted a PPP event during their annual open house.
At the “Play for Purple” Field Hockey game hosted by Farmington High School, the team painted approximately 40 pumpkins and hosted bake sale, raising over $400 for the Epilepsy Foundation Connecticut.
Hero’s Grill and Bar in Berlin agreed to sell paper purple pumpkins for two weeks, donating the nearly $200 in proceeds to the Epilepsy Foundation Connecticut.
At the Second Annual Purple Pumpkin Decoration Event in Berlin, Connecticut, attendees enjoyed children’s games, music, snacks, a bake sale, and of course a large pumpkin patch so each person could decorate a purple pumpkin to take home and invite the question, “Why is your pumpkin purple?” Attendance increased by 150% and 160 purple pumpkins made their way to front porches across the state. It was an amazing day of creativity and awareness, but the one thing that stands out from that day was the outreach. Two newly diagnosed families came out because of an article about the PPP in the Hartford Courant, and, for the first time, they realized they were not alone in their journey.
Get Involved - Paint Your Pumpkin Purple This Year
This Halloween, on the eve of National Epilepsy Awareness Month, turn one of your pumpkins purple and encourage others to do the same. Host a purple pumpkin decorating or carving event at your home, school or workplace to raise epilepsy awareness and help your community get seizure smart.