Like most 5-year-olds, Hudson Brown of Walnut Creek can’t wait to parade up and down his street in his Ironman costume on Halloween. But the thought of trick-or-treating strikes real fear into his mother’s heart, because Kimberly Brown’s little one has severe food allergies.
“Halloween can be a very, very anxious evening for us,” she explained.
Families dealing with food allergies are turning to the Teal Pumpkin Project to get through the holiday. They decorate their porches with teal pumpkins and distribute non-food items instead of candy at their front doors, in an effort to bring awareness to food allergy issues.
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The campaign aims to take the trickiness out of Halloween for families with food allergies, so all kids can participate.
Brown’s nightmare is that her son might touch something while reaching into a bucket of tasty treats, be exposed to an allergen, and the whole family would end up spending the night in the emergency room instead of trick-or-treating.
Hudson is generally cooperative, wears an allergy bracelet, and understands that many foods are off-limits, she said. But like any 5-year-old, just the thought of sweets is enough to start him bouncing and hollering for candy.
"We know that if we see a house with a teal pumpkin, there's not going to be a scary candy bar dropping into his bucket that evening. It's going to be something he can enjoy, that he can play with, something that won't make him sick," Brown said.
She bought small toys and trinkets to distribute: plastic fangs, pencils, stickers, googly eyes and glow sticks. She said she’s encouraged that stores are stocking alternatives to candy, and touched by families who don’t have food allergies but still provide options for food-sensitive kids.
Many families dealing with food allergies keep a stash of candy that’s safe and switch out the suspect sweets for the kind their child can consume safely once they get home from trick-or-treating.
In Hayward, Christina Allen organized a Teal Pumpkin “Trunk-or-Treat” event at East Avenue Elementary. That's where families decorate their car trunks and costumed kids can go from car to car, getting treats, playing games and making Halloween crafts. She said her child’s school was receptive and eager to organize events where allergic kids can participate.
She also attended a teal pumpkin painting party with her 7-year-old son, Thomas, who has a severe dairy allergy.
“My son wants to wear his costume and go door-to-door like everyone else,” she said. “He’s very careful and won’t reach into a bowl and grab a Snickers. He comes home and we sort through the candy. We’ve had years where he only gets maybe five candies he can actually eat. So we have toys and dairy-free candy available.”
The teal pumpkin raises awareness of kids who have special dietary needs, and sends a welcome message to her son.
“If we walk through the neighborhood and if we see a teal pumpkin, he knows that means that someone cares about him, about including him,” she said.
The Food Allergy Research and Education organization has a map of teal pumpkin families on its website.