Thanks to the Teal Pumpkin Project, Halloween is now one of the Hess family’s favorite holidays. However, this wasn’t always the case because for many years one element of Halloween has brought on anxiety and fear for many food-allergic children. But not in the way of ghosts, clowns, and zombies; it’s the candy that ends up in trick-or-treat bags that can bring on real life terror depending on who consumes it.
One Halloween years ago proved to be a rough night for the Hess family when the couple’s son (two-and-a-half years old at the time) went trick-or-treating and afterwards someone accidentally gave him a bite of a Snickers bar. Within minutes the young boy went into anaphylactic shock and had to go to the ER; the next week was filled with steroids and trying to recover from the scary food incident.
A few years later in 2014 when Halloween came around again, he got all dressed up and was excited to go out with his friends. His parents taught him to say, “trick or treat, no nuts please”, but a well-intentioned neighbor didn’t hear him and dropped a Snickers bar in his bag. With memory of the terrifying ER incident, seeing the treat again took all the fun and excitement out of the holiday.
“We saw his little light go out, he lost the bounce in his step and didn’t want anything else. We will modify or avoid things to keep our kids safe; we were thinking to ourselves, is (Halloween) even worth doing? He just had that look like, ‘why can’t I enjoy the things that my friends can?’” the boy’s mother Erin Hess ponders.
Fortunately, Hess found the Teal Pumpkin Project launched by the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) and started getting the word out about in Northern Nevada to try to bring the magic of trick-or-treating back for their kids. When people keep a teal pumpkin on their porch or have a Teal Pumpkin Project flyer near their house, it shows food allergic trick-or-treaters that there is a non-food option for them to enjoy.
Launched in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project is an international effort, but Hess didn’t see anything really like it in Northern Nevada. Therefore, she has been painting pumpkins, educating her friends and neighbors, and worked with local businesses to get more teal-colored pumpkins- and the meaning behind them- out there. Andelin Family Farm participates (they grow a special batch of pumpkins just for the Teal Pumpkin Project) and the Raley’s near their home in Wingfield Springs donated 50 pumpkins that the Hess family takes home, paints, and brings back with a flyer explaining why those particular pumpkins are the color they are.
Last year the Hess’s gave away more than 700 teal pumpkins mostly in Sparks, so now fortunately there are more houses showing that they have something to offer all trick-or-treaters.
“Oh my gosh, Halloween is a 180-degree difference for us. It was pretty exhausting getting the word out about it, but when Halloween came around in 2015 it was like night and day for what it meant to our family. We’re not trying to take anything away from Halloween, we just want to add something to it for food allergy families. We’re afraid to go anywhere,” she says about the food allergens lurking at most holiday parties, “it’s nice to have one night where you don’t have to worry about that.”
Fortunately, there are also places like the Dollar Tree and Target that sell fun affordable trinkets that kids get excited about, are healthier, and it takes away the fear of possibly ending up in the ER.
“Everyone wants a chance to dress up, say trick or treat, and walk away with something. That’s what the Teal Pumpkin Project does- it allows kids to participate in that magical night,” Hess says. “Along with offering candy, we just ask that neighbors add something extra that all families can enjoy,” she adds.
For more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project or adding your home to the food allergy-free map, visit https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project.
Likewise, here are some upcoming events that support the Teal Pumpkin Project and trick-or-treaters with food allergies in the Sparks area:
10/18 from 5-8 p.m. at Lena Juniper Elementary School: Lena Juniper Elementary will host its annual Halloween fundraiser which will have a teal pumpkin and a bowl of non-food goodies in every classroom for kids who can’t have the candy that is offered for any reason.
10/19 Starting at 10 a.m. at Andelin Family Farm: There will be a table and tent set up at the Andelin Family Farm Pumpkin Patch where the Hess family will be giving away painted teal pumpkins to families planning on participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. They hope to give away hundreds of teal pumpkins at this event and educate lots of families about the importance of including kids with food allergies and other food intolerances during the holidays (and always).
10/31 Whenever it gets dark in Wingfield Springs: Finally, on Halloween night, the neighborhood around Matter Drive will be very food allergy friendly with an anticipated 20-plus houses with teal pumpkins offering a separate bowl of non-food goodies to trick-or-treaters.