If the answer is never, then I want to invite you to join in on the Teal Pumpkin Project this year and help make 'not anymore' the answer for everyone who would answer the above questions with 'last Halloween...'
If you're not living with life-threatening food allergies or medical conditions impacting the ability to eat, then it may have never occurred to you that there are millions of children (and their parents) in the USA who watch Halloween approaching with fear, anxiety, and worry knowing it's another round of Russian Roulette and that the evening will likely end in disappointment at best...and death at worst. I know that sounds harsh, but unfortunately, that is the reality for many children living with life-threatening food allergies or medical conditions that prevent a normal diet.
If you have already adjusted your Halloween handouts to accommodate peanut allergies, THANK YOU!! Please don't mistake this post as overlooking the huge strides that have already occurred to help make Halloween an option for more kids. I am so glad that people are making an effort to include classmates and friends with severe peanut and tree nut allergies by providing fruity options in addition to the traditional M&Ms or Snickers. If you have done this, as I said before, THANK YOU! But please, go one step further this year...
Please take a moment to consider (or become aware of) the thousands of children who cannot eat any candy at all. Maybe they have Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) or Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES)...maybe they have GI motility or absorption issues and need a feeding tube or IV nutrition...maybe they have a sensory processing disorder and candy is not one of their safe foods...maybe they are like me and have mast cell disease or another rare disease that impacts their ability to eat normally or at all...
And THAT is what the Teal Pumpkin Project was created for!
It was started by a single mom of two kids in a community in Tennessee that wanted to make sure all kids were included, regardless of any dietary limitations. It is easy and inexpensive, but so important to those kids who get the chance to be a part of trick-or-treating and to ENJOY their treats at the end of the night instead of having to give them up.
Here's what the Teal Pumpkin Project involves and how you can be a part of including all kids this year at Halloween, even those who cannot eat regular candy:
- During your trip to the store to buy Halloween candy, take an extra 10 minutes to stop by the dollar store and pick up some non-food treats. Things like glow sticks, stickers, matchbox cars, fun pencils, notepads, bubbles, etc. are great, inexpensive options to have on hand. (Be careful choosing silly putty, play-doh, or balloons as these often include allergens.)
- When you're carving pumpkins with the family, take an extra pumpkin (or you can use one of your jack-o-lanterns) and paint it TEAL. Teal is the color of food allergy awareness and the teal pumpkin has become the symbol used across the country to indicate houses that have non-food toys available.
- Set your pumpkin out on your front porch so your neighbors and surrounding community know you have a house their child can trick-or-treat at if they are impacted by allergies, disease, or other issues that prevent them from enjoying regular candy. If possible, set your teal pumpkin out a week or so early. This gives your neighbors and community to notice ahead of time that you will have non-food options. Sometimes this can be the make or break time for parents with children who cannot have candy as they are deciding whether or not to even let them trick-or-treat.
- During trick-or-treating, have a separate bowl for the non-food items so there is no risk of contamination from the candy or candy-covered fingers reaching into the bowl. As kids come to your house, ask if there are any food allergies (or ask the parents, some kids may be non-verbal and unable to answer themselves). If there are, offer the toy bowl to those kids as the other kids get candy. BE AWARE! Sometimes the toys are more popular than the candy! =P If that is the case, ask the kids which toy they would like and hand it to them. Prevent kids from just grabbing toys as this could result in chocolate, milk, peanuts, other allergens, etc. getting on any of the toys which would make them unsafe.
- Lastly, don't be discouraged if you don't give out any of the non-food toys. The teal pumpkin project was only begun in 2012, so it is slowly growing. Save the toys you have left for next year and know that while you may not have been able to give any out yet, as food allergies continue to stay at an all-time high, in a few years, you may have none left at all at the end of the evening.
I hope that this year, teal pumpkins will become more common in more communities. While I did not have mast cell issues or food allergies as a kid, I still know what it feels like to be the only one unable to eat at social events. When a holiday is so focused on gathering candy and a child is unable to eat any of it, it can feel very isolating. Please consider joining in on the Teal Pumpkin Project and being a part of helping all kids feel included this Halloween!