Sam Kaiser

Seventh-grader Sam Kaiser, left, works to attach bungee cords to a catapult Thursday morning outside Laramie Middle School. The LMS STEM club is one of the teams competing in the Punkin Chunkin’ contest.

A fall-themed party with contests, races, food, raffle prizes, vendors and flying pumpkins is coming to the Albany County Fairgrounds this weekend.

Now in its second year, the Punkin Chunkin’ and Harvest Fall Festival is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds 3510 S. Third St. Admission is $5, and all proceeds will benefit the Laramie Foster Closet. Kids 2 and younger get in free.

The central element of the event is the Punkin Chunkin’ competition, where teams will compete for the title “Lord of the Gourd” by building mechanical devices to launch pumpkins as far as they can. There’s a separate division for children.

Jenni Vazqueztell, who founded the Foster Closet together with her husband, Alan, said they were inspired to organize the pumpkin-launching event after watching a television show about teams of backyard engineers chasing pumpkin-projectile distance records in a no-holds-barred arms race.

“That’s a little bit too dangerous for us, so we came up with a way that we could do it more mechanically-based,” Vazqueztell said.

Spectators will have plenty of things to occupy the day while they dodge flying objects. The Harvest Festival also includes a vendor fair with more than 50 sellers offering clothing, bath and body products, decorative items and more.

“We have a really wide variety this year, which I love,” Vazqueztell said.

Anyone who wants to enter a pumpkin-baking contest can drop off their entry from 8-10 a.m., with judging scheduled for 11 a.m. The entry fee for the contest is $5,

A wheelbarrow race is scheduled for noon, with a cash prize for the winner. Participants must wear a helmet and bring their own wheelbarrow. Potato sack races are scheduled for 10:45 a.m. and 3 p.m.

A pie-eating contest is scheduled for 1 p.m. The entry fee is $5, with competitors having their choice from among 24 apple and cherry pies.

“If you win, you get half the pot,” Vazqueztell said.

Those who want to try their hand at pumpkin launching on a smaller scale can check out a giant slingshot, with a car placed as a target. Anyone who hits the car can draw for a gift card.

A costume contest is scheduled for 2 p.m., with prizes for adults and children.

Pure Mountain Photography will be on hand offering mini photography sessions with a fall-themed backdrop.

“You can just show up, and she’s going to do them right there,” she said. Throughout the day, games of pumpkin pong will be ongoing for $1 per game, with competitors vying to get the most ping pong balls in a cup. Winners will receive entries into a drawing for a one-night stay at Saratoga Hot Springs Resort.

The event also includes a drawing for raffle prizes, a photo booth and a pumpkin patch open to everyone.

Vazqueztell said the Punkin Chunkin’ and Harvest Fall Festival is the main fundraiser of the year for the Foster Closet, but the emphasis of the event is on having fun.

“We didn’t want to do another formal event for a nonprofit, so we thought we’d do something for fun,” she said.

The Vazqueztells started the Foster Closet in 2017, soon after moving to Laramie from Florida. The closet provides foster families with new or gently used clothing, baby gear, furniture, car seats, school supplies, sporting equipment and other necessities for kids of all ages.

The aim is to support foster families when they take children into their homes. Families often don’t know the age or gender of their child ahead of time, making it hard to prepare for a child who may arrive with no belongings.

Vazqueztell said proceeds would support the purchase of items such as glasses and scholarships to pay for school field trips for children in foster care.

After starting out in a storage container, the closet moved to a room in the Laramie Plains Civic Center earlier this spring.

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