By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Nathan Schaub was swallowed by the T-Rex at Jacob's Farm.
The 3-year-old led his family as they navigated Jacob's Corn Maze on a recent weekend — one of four this fall that will help support area faith-based organizations.
The fifth-generation family farm is donating a portion of its admissions in September to charities hand-picked by owners Mike and Laverna Witkop and their partners, Steve and Lisa Fouch.
The annual fundraisers were created partly to drive in more business for the traditionally slower month and partly as a result of the partners' deep-seated faith, said Laverna Witkop. She and Mike attend Faith Reformed Church, where Laverna is a deacon; Lisa and Steve attend Bay Pointe Community Church.
"We sat down as four partners and said, 'As Christians we're going to tithe for our churches. So what would we want to do as a business, what would we want to support that way?'" Witkop said. "Being Christians, faith-based organizations are the type of organizations we tend to gravitate to anyway."
This September the friends selected Single Mom Ministry, the Father Fred Foundation, Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan and Operation Christmas Child. Each weekend one of the charities will get a portion of admissions during public corn maze hours, 5-9 p.m. Friday, 1-9 p.m. Saturday and 1-7 p.m. Sunday.
"For everybody that goes through the maze that week, we'll donate $1. And we encourage them to match it," Witkop said. "Some throw a dollar in the pot, some more."
This weekend the farm also will kick in free admission for families of its selected charity, Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan. While the organization isn't necessarily faith-based, its work — providing adoption, foster care, and family, individual and pregnancy counseling — is close to the couple's heart, Witkop said.
"My husband and I in particular are advocates of adoption because our daughter is adopted," she said, referring to Hope Academy senior Grace Witkop, 18, whom they adopted when she was 4 days old.
This is the third year the corn maze will benefit the Father Fred Foundation, which provides food, clothing, furniture and emergency cash assistance for local families.
"It's getting to be a tradition, like the cigar dinner, like the garage sale," said Father Fred Development Director David Abeel. "It's a very nice drumbeat of support."
He said the event brings in roughly $500 to $1,500 for Father Fred each year, or enough to feed 30 to 40 families for a day.
"It would make a big dent in our food pantry for a day," he said. "It costs about $3,000 a day, when we're open, to operate our food pantry. During the fall it tends to be our busiest season."
But there's another benefit of the fundraiser that's almost as important, Abeel said.
"It's a fabric of community support that is visible and front and center, and that's the key," he said. "Every fundraiser leads to others. There are literally hundreds of little food drives, fundraisers, even a tattoo parlor fundraiser, for Father Fred. That kind of thing is infectious."
Jacob's Corn Maze started in 2008 on 10 acres along M-72 West. This year's GPS-designed maze -- really three separate mazes — includes more than five miles of trails.
Jacob's Farm partner and market manager Lisa Fouch said she and her daughter chose the maze design this year and threw in a couple of extra grids to make navigation tougher. Each of the two adult mazes takes between one and two hours to get through, Fouch said.
The final fundraiser will take place Sept. 24-26 for Operation Christmas Child. The project is part of a worldwide ministry of Samaritan's Purse that collects shoeboxes filled with toys and candy and ships them to children in more than 100 countries. This year's goal is 27,000 shoeboxes by Nov. 22, said area Coordinator Dianna DeYoung. The corn maze event will help raise funds for shipping costs, Witkop said.
Admission to the maze is $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-11. Children under 3 get in free. For more information, visit jacobs-corn-maze.com.