Halloween is a beloved time of year for trick-or-treaters, but for Spanish Springs parents Aaron and Erin Hess, whose children suffer from a life-threatening allergy to nuts, it can be a holiday full of stress and fear.
This Halloween season, many households and businesses have come together to support The Teal Pumpkin Project and the food allergy community by displaying teal-colored pumpkins, which means they offer non-food treats, such as glow sticks and stickers, in addition to candy.
The Teal Pumpkin Project was launched in 2014 by the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization, a national nonprofit based in Virginia, to raise awareness about food allergies and to include all trick-or-treaters in Halloween festivities.
According to FARE, more than 6 million children (about one in 13) in the United States have food allergies and to prevent exposure, many children are unable to have any Halloween candy. Even goodies that don’t contain specific ingredients may still have been produced in a facility that uses those ingredients, exposing it to allergens.
To minimize the risk, the Hess family has to carefully monitor the candy their children receive. The Teal Pumpkin Project gives their children the opportunity to feel included and to have a fun and safe Halloween.
“Our kids are always different,” said Erin Hess. “They always stand out. There’s always a little bit of a disappointment everywhere they go, and Halloween is especially disappointing. The idea of the Teal Pumpkin Project, where our kids could go up to the door and get what everybody else is getting, or even get something they think is even cooler because they love all the little toys and stuff, it just touches me.”
The Teal Pumpkin Project can benefit even those who don’t have food allergies, by providing healthier alternatives for families who prefer their children to have less candy.
“I just think that there’s a benefit for everyone,” she said. “Every kid who comes to your door, every family that participates, there is some reason why it would benefit them and every one of their trick-or-treaters.”
The Hess family became passionate about the project and knew that it could make a difference for other families. They decided to spearhead the Teal Pumpkin Project locally by approaching several businesses to support the cause, along with posting information on social media and spreading the word.
“We realized how hugely it could impact families who have special dietary needs, and also how easy it is to get people on board because it’s such an amazing thing,” Erin Hess said.
They have received an outpouring of support from households within the community and local businesses who have pledged to support the Teal Pumpkin Project during their Halloween events, including the Great Western Marketplace, the Wilbur D. May Museum, Lena Juniper Elementary, Andelin Family Farms and Reed High School.
“So many people want to participate in it, and it can easily grow into something really big and really fun for everyone” said Aaron Hess.
Since the Teal Pumpkin Project launched last year, it has rapidly gained popularity, with more than 100,000 households in 50 states and seven countries making the pledge to participate. The Hess family hopes that the Teal Pumpkin Project will continue to gain momentum and eventually become a normal part of Halloween.
“I think the Teal Project lets the community know there are people that care,” said Aaron Hess. “There’s someone promoting something that’s good for others. It kind of shows a sense of community and wanting to help each other.”
He said he hopes that by raising awareness, the food allergy community will receive additional support and money toward education and research.
“This is a problem that’s going to continue to grow,” he said. “The sooner we can get people thinking about it, the better. The more they’ll want to learn about it, which in return can support a company like FARE who takes donations, so that they can do more research and find new ways to deal with food allergies.”
For more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project, visit FARE’s website at www.foodallergy.org.