Trick or Treat? For one in 13 children in the U.S. who have a food allergy, this can quite literally be a trick question. Potentially life-threatening food allergies challenge millions of families like mine, and Halloween presents additional obstacles for us with festivities centered around candy, food and crafts. This fun holiday can be scary and even deadly for these children. FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project is changing that by making Halloween more safe and inclusive for all. Since 2014, it’s been gaining momentum to help ensure every trick-or-treater comes home with something to enjoy.
If you’re a food allergy parent, you probably already take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project to some degree. You may know which of your neighbors have safe treats or, as usual, you make plans to bring your own. Maybe your child is still young enough to not fully understand what he or she is missing. Then, as he gets older you want him to participate like everyone else. This describes my family’s situation this year as my son turns three, so I’ve taken steps to raise awareness about food allergies and encourage neighbors and organizations in my community to turn our town teal this Halloween. I invite you to do the same. It’s up to us to set an example and educate others. If we do it right, I believe these efforts can carry into the holiday season.
My food allergy parent friends and I have had success with several of these grassroots efforts, and you can, too:
- Letter writing – Reach out to your neighbors and teachers in advance of the holiday to alert and remind them of your child’s allergy or allergies and ask for assistance in making the experience a happy, safe and inclusive one. The sample letter included at the end of this post is based on one created by Vikki Meldrum, a fellow local food allergy supermom who achieved 100 percent Teal Pumpkin Project participation in her neighborhood over the last few years. Feel free to tailor and share it to meet your needs. Send it via email or mail depending on what local directories and information are available to you.
- Displaying a teal pumpkin at your home and office – Show your home is safe for children with food allergies to knock on the door. Paint a pumpkin teal, buy one from a craft store/pharmacy or print one of FARE’s free signs. Place one at your work desk to start a conversation with colleagues or clients. In the same way pumpkin spice is everywhere and seems to multiply each year, let’s spread the teal love!
- Social media sharing – A picture can be worth a thousand words. Share your allergy-friendly treat ideas or link to FARE’s safe treat infographic and social media posts (#TealPumpkinProject).
- Teaming up – There is strength in numbers. Take your social media sharing a step further, and search for Facebook food allergy groups in your area. If you can’t find one, consider starting one. I created one for food allergy parents in Avon Lake and surrounding areas, which now includes parents in Rocky River, Westlake and beyond. We share links to helpful articles and events, new allergy-friendly foods, restaurant experiences, and even collaborate to petition stores for product stock requests, as we recently did for Halloween treats.
- Coloring crafts – Bring these simple or advanced Teal Pumpkin Project coloring sheets to your next play group, PTA meeting, craft club, school, library or other place that welcomes children’s activities. Kids can color their own teal pumpkin Halloween picture while raising awareness. I’m bringing a stack to our next PTA craft club along with allergy-friendly treats and Teal Pumpkin Project flyers.
- Leading by example and thanking supporters – Bring safe treats to your next school, church or family function. Safe Halloween practices can carry through Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, especially if those efforts are recognized and appreciated. Work with your child to write thank you notes for neighbors, teachers and other Teal Pumpkin Project supporters. This can encourage them to continue such efforts year-round and persuade others to follow suit.
More school districts, like Avon Lake City Schools, have already taken steps to make celebrations healthier and more inclusive by eliminating birthday cupcakes, for example. These ideas apply year-round to party favors, goody bags, rewards and celebratory treats. Kids With Food Allergies, a Division of the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America, offers additional tips for home and school, including a Teal Classroom Kit.
Examples of safe Halloween treats include non-food and Top 8 Allergen-Free options:
- Spooky jewelry like plastic spider rings and barbed wire bracelets
- Stickers, notepads, pencils/crayons, erasers and bookmarks
- Bubbles, glow sticks, noisemakers, balls, playing cards and other toys
- Top 8 Allergen-Free Enjoy Life chocolates, YumEarth gummies and lollipops, Made Good Vanilla Crispy Squares, Wholesome Organic Lollipops and Surf Sweets Gummy Worms and Spooky Spiders
If you’re looking to attend an allergy-friendly Halloween event, NEOFAN, the Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network, is partnering with Eton Chagrin Boulevard Shopping Center for its Bootique Trick-or-Treat event October 26 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. to support the Teal Pumpkin Project. Allergen-free treats and non-food items will be offered in addition to traditional candy. NEOFAN will be onsite to share food allergy resources and fun giveaways.
Finally, if you are inclined to support the Teal Pumpkin Project through a monetary contribution, FARE accepts donations online, as does NEOFAN. To be a part of NEOFAN and the support and resources it offers, complete this form to receive news and/or get more involved.
NEOFAN and my family wish everyone a safe and happy Halloween. May this be the beginning of a joyful and inclusive holiday season. Let’s #KeepItTeal into the new year!
SAMPLE LETTER – Personalize and share this template note for neighbors before trick-or-treating.
Hi, Neighbors –
As Halloween approaches, we need to ask a favor.
Our [AGE]-year-old [SON/DAUGHTER], [NAME], has life threatening food allergies to things commonly found in candy ([ALLERGIES]). If [HE/SHE] comes into contact, through eating or even skin contact, with food containing any of these items, [HE/SHE] could have an anaphylactic response. As you can imagine, this makes celebrating Halloween difficult.
So, we wanted to ask if you plan to pass out candy for Halloween, could you please consider also picking up a small non-food item (stickers, crayons, etc.) and keep it away from the candy to limit contamination? We’d love for [NAME] to be able to participate in Halloween and appreciate help from the community to keep [HIM/HER] safe.
If you’re willing to provide a non-food treat, [FOR EMAIL: here is a teal pumpkin / FOR MAIL: enclosed is a teal pumpkin] you can display indicating your home is safe for us to bring [NAME] to your door. The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes non-food treats for kids like [NAME]. [FOR EMAIL: Here’s an article from USA Today on the Teal Pumpkin Project for background. / FOR MAIL: To learn more, Google “Teal Pumpkin Project” and you’ll find background and news articles on the program.]
To help make [NAME] easily identifiable, [NAME] will be dressed as [COSTUME], and we will identify [HIM/HER] as we come to the door. If we don’t see a teal pumpkin, we’ll go to the next house, no problem.
Please let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss. You can reach me at [EMAIL/PHONE].
Thank you for reading this and hopefully participating!