The Teal Pumpkin Project Takes Over a Neighborhood

Guest post from food allergy mom Vikki Meldrum

It rained on Halloween 2013. Stormed. I had made a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume for my 8-month old, Lyla. I could barely sew, but I was determined to give her a huge first Halloween – costumes, candy, all of it. Lyla’s allergies had started to present and we were avoiding milk, but her pediatrician didn’t deem blood or skin testing necessary. We didn’t take them very seriously. Thank goodness it rained, otherwise we might have tried a litany of things that could have caused life-threatening reactions.

By Lyla’s second Halloween, we knew she was anaphylactic to milk, peanut and egg. We knew she had low-grade responses to tree nuts. We suspected several other foods. As this candy-based holiday approached, we panicked. How do we let this child participate and keep her safe? We talked about a lot of possibilities, including not letting her trick-or-treat. None of it seemed fair. It was one of the first times I realized the depth of struggle my beautiful Oompa Loompa (her costume that year) would face. In the same way food allergies affect the whole family, it takes a rally by the family to make things happen despite them. 

So, we developed a strategy. We learned about FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project® and through the concept, we appealed to our community. We engaged with them, shared our situation and asked them to help us make this holiday a success. And it worked. Over the last three years we’ve employed the following steps:

  1. The first week of October we send an email to everyone listed in our neighborhood directory outlining Lyla’s allergies and asking if they plan to pass out treats, if they could provide a non-food treat for our girl. We also linked to information on the Teal Pumpkin Project, a national news article on the Teal Pumpkin Project (validating the program) and included a Word doc with a printable Teal pumpkin to display if they plan to provide a non-food treat.
  2. As we didn’t have everyone’s email in the directory and wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to get the information and participate, we also delivered a letter and a printed teal pumpkin to every mailbox in our neighborhood.
  3. Then, we get ready for the holiday!

By Lyla’s third Halloween (she went as a The Karate Kid when he dresses as the shower for the dance), her allergies worsened, but we still had an amazing holiday. We had a 100 percent non-food participation rate in our neighborhood. Neighbors still gave out candy, but each of them displayed their teal pumpkin and had a non-food treat for Lyla. She was able to just be a kid. She knocked on doors, introduced herself and was given a treat. At every door. We cried happy, grateful tears that night as Lyla played with what looked like a Christmas-morning-amount of non-food treats.

By 2016, Lyla’s fourth Halloween (dressed as Rapunzel; first year I was not allowed to make her costume), in addition to giving out candy, about one-quarter of our neighbors had a bowl of non-food treats available for all the trick-or-treaters. It was amazing.

After each Halloween, Lyla (with our help) wrote and delivered thank you notes to every neighbor, which I heard over and over were appreciated.

Now, we may live in a place where neighbors are just really kind, and they are. But I think this approach can work anywhere for everyone. These holidays are not set up for kids with food allergies, but there are ways to make it possible for them to have a great time and be safe.

This Halloween, Lyla will hit the streets dressed as a hot dog. Halloween no longer causes panic in our family. We’ll have her epinephrine auto-injector and are ready for anything, but we aren’t worried. Through the Teal Pumpkin Project, we have a system in place that works and a child that isn’t afraid to go into the world and be a part of this fun holiday.

Some Tips:

  • Not all neighborhoods have an existing neighborhood directory. You may have to create one. We’re in the process of updating ours now as a lot of the information is outdated and several homes have new owners.
  • My neighborhood only has about 30 houses so it was a very manageable to hand-deliver the letters. If your neighborhood is larger, you might consider setting up a designated trick-or-treat area of houses and focus on communicating with those neighbors.
  • Pop your kid in a wagon and have them help with the mailbox letter deliveries. It not only gives them part of the ownership of the management of their allergies, it also gives your neighbors an opportunity to meet your sweet child. We have found when people put a face, voice and personality with the child with food allergies, they are more open to helping.
  • Include your child’s costume in the letter. It helps the neighbors identify them when they come to the door.
  • Mention in the letter to keep the nonfood treat separate from the candy, if possible.
  • We only give out nonfood treats, and kids LOVE it. Everyone gets a ton of candy. Not everyone gets mini skateboards, snap bracelets and bouncy balls!

If you’d like more information about how Vikki created her neighborhood directory, contact her here.

FARE thanks Vikki and Lyla for their above-and-beyond participation of the Teal Pumpkin Project! Are you participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project this year? Be sure to add your house to the Teal Pumpkin Project Participation Map!

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