From community block parties to “trunk-or-treat” tailgating, there is no shortage of events during the Halloween season for families seeking a safe alternative to doorbell trick or treating — especially when neighbors pull together.
“We’re bringing traditional trick-or-treating to the next level,” said Lorraine Labonne-Storch, executive director of the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey, which hosts a costume parade every year on Halloween day, when village streets are temporarily closed to traffic. Along with the march, the afternoon event features a D.J., and a contest with awards for the most creative costumes.
“Our merchants each buy about 1,500 pieces of candy every year and every year they run out,” said Labonne-Storch in an interview. “It’s all about the sense of community. It’s exciting for kids to get a treat from the local stores, and the parents come because they know they’re in a safe environment with all their friends and neighbors. It’s like a big party.”
This year, the merchants who distribute treats are also invited to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project to promote food allergy awareness. Those who participate will set out a teal pumpkin to alert kids that they have non-food treats available, as well, like glow sticks and temporary tattoos. (Residents do it, too, as the concept catches on.)
“I think that for families with young children, the parade is a great alternative way to let their kids participate in all that Halloween fun without having to keep them up so late at night,” said Labonne-Storch, noting many of the older kids head home for dinner and then rush back out for traditional trick-or-treating after dark.
Trunk or treat
Trunk-or-treat events, which are wheelchair friendly for disabled trick-or-treaters, are also catching on for Halloween in communities across the country.
Local organizations that host the events solicit merchants or volunteers to decorate their cars and distribute candy to little trick-or-treaters from their trunks. Like homemade jack-o’lanterns, no two trunk-or-treat parties are ever alike.
Some are held in parking lots. Others, like the one scheduled for October 27 at Holy Word Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, are organized in a grassy field, where hot dogs, popcorn, carnival games, live music, and costume judging contests are all on the menu. Last year, the event also featured a mobile petting zoo and horseback rides.
“We partner with the local schools to get the word out about our event, which is designed to be a safe, fun way to enjoy the trick-or-treating experience,” said Dan Laitinen, the church’s pastor, in an interview. “Some of our families live in neighborhoods where there is a lot of crime and they don’t feel comfortable taking their kids to trick or treat door to door.”
Families who attend are encouraged to make a small donation to the local food pantry, but it’s not required. “This is much more than just handing out candy,” said Laitinen. “We do this to create community, to give back what we get. That’s what creates true community.” (Related: Financial Halloween lessons for kids)
In Arlington Heights, Illinois, families in search of trunk-or-treat fun have a different experience. It’s all held indoors.
Families pay $7 in advance, or $10 at the door, for entry to the event, which offers face painting, bounce houses, craft tables, balloon artists, and, of course, trick-or-treating trunk to trunk.
“A few years ago, our township gave us access to the public works building, which is basically a giant airplane hangar,” said Kevin Keister, recreation supervisor for the Arlington Heights Park District. “They clear out for the day and let us come in and set up. The fact that it’s now indoors, in a controlled and safe environment, is a big appeal to parents.”
The merchants and residents who pass out candy, he said in an interview, bring their creative flair to the day’s festivities.
“The cars themselves are almost like haunted houses, where you open the back of a van and they have skeletons and cobwebs inside,” said Keister. “If it’s a dentist’s office that sponsors a car, they may pick a theme and have the entire office staff show up dressed as superheroes.”
Halloween is a beloved holiday for kids of all ages. Parents and caregivers who are looking to help their little ones celebrate the season in a safe and inclusive setting need only check with their local township, elementary school, or community organization for tips on where to head for sweets and spooks this year.
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This article was originally published October 2017. It has been updated.