Halloween, like other children's holidays, is about "getting." Candy, mostly. But unlike many other holidays, there is no "giving" message typically associated with the occasion. Here's how you can make giving part of your Halloween fun.
Trick-or-treat for UNICEF
UNICEF is the world's leading children's organization. It provides children with lifesaving medicine, proper nutrition, clean water, education and emergency relief. By gathering change, in addition to or in place of Halloween candy, children can make a real impact in the lives of the disadvantaged. The process is simple:
1: Get or make an official UNICEF donation box. You can pre-order a box or make your own container by printing out the wrapper located on the UNICEF Web site. During October, collection boxes are available at several retail locations, including Pier 1 Imports and Hallmark Gold Crown stores.
2: Collect donations. "Trick-or-treat for UNICEF!" would be an appropriate thing to say when neighbors open the door. It is also a good idea to have the children thank everyone they ask, whether or not they donate.
3: Send in the money you raise. You can do this by check, money order, credit card or Coinstar machine. Checks should be made payable to U.S. Fund for UNICEF and sent to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038. Credit-card payments can be made at www.unicefusa.org/trickortreat or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS. To find the nearest Coinstar Center with a donation option, visit www.coinstar.com. You will need to enter code 5555 at the machine. Coinstar receipts should be sent to the address above.
The trick-or-treating for UNICEF on Halloween night slows down the candy-getting, as people answering their doors are prepared with Snickers and Hershey's Kisses but not with coins or cash. Costumed little ones have to wait at each house for people to grab their wallets, but they usually do like to put a few coins or a dollar or two in the box.
Trick-or-treating for UNICEF encourages and empowers children to help other children around the world. To find out more, visit www.unicefusa.org/trickortreat or call 1-800-FOR-KIDS.
Buy your Halloween products through Web sites that benefit others
One such site is www.therainforestsite.com, where every purchase "funds the protection of a vital habitat." Use the search feature and type "Halloween" to find Halloween products. While you are on the site, you and your children will have the opportunity (no purchase necessary) to help save vital habitats, sponsor mammograms, alleviate hunger, promote literacy and assist animal shelters, just by clicking a button. Donations are made possible through the site's ad sponsors.
Help a cat or bat
With bats and black cats serving as Halloween icons, it is the perfect time to bring their needs to your children's attention. Why not make or recycle your costumes this year? Or throw a Halloween bake sale? Your children can take the money they save or make and donate it to the Florida Humane Society. Visit www.floridahumanesociety.org for more information or call 954-570-9507. There is also a bat conservation organization that you can learn about at www.batconservation.org.
Attend a Halloween benefit
Check our event listings or scour the newspaper for Halloween events that benefit your community.
Throw your own charitable Halloween party
People don't think about donating to the poor during Halloween, so food banks tend to be relatively empty in October. Consider throwing a "Halloween Harvesting Party" and ask that your guests bring food to donate to your local food bank.
You might instead opt to "harvest" games, toys or clothes for needy children. Local child therapist Monica Schaly recommends Kids in Distress. "They collect new items, such as clothing, school supplies, toys, etc.," she said. "These items are really appreciated by the children in their shelters, group homes and foster homes."
Contact 954-390-7654 or 561-272-9619 or visit www.kidsindistress.org for a complete list of requested items, drop-off locations and further information.
Donate your extra candy
Consider donating your excess Halloween candy to U.S. troops overseas. Treats are appreciated even more when accompanied by a card, picture or letter of support. The steps are simple:
1: After Halloween, ask other families to drop off excess candy at your house.
2: Separate the chocolate candy from the other pieces. Place the chocolate in a separate bag and eat it yourself since it would only melt in the extreme heat of the shipping process. Discard any opened or unwrapped candy.
3: If you don't already know a soldier to whom you want to send your care package, ask friends, neighbors, colleagues or church members to get the name and address of someone who is serving. Another option is to visit a Web site, such as www.anysoldier.com or www.anymarine.com. Click on "Where to send" and then "Get random contact." Once you have clicked through, you will receive the name of a soldier, where his or her unit is from, an address to send the package and information about how long they have been there and when they are expected to leave. The post office can assist you from there.
Take part in Sight Night
Sight Night is an annual eyeglasses-collection project organized around Halloween by the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation and Lions Club International. Complete pairs of children's and adult's prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses are needed, as well as nonprescription sunglasses.
Participants are encouraged to distribute door-hangers on their trick-or-treat route the week before Halloween. That will give neighbors time to find their used eyeglasses and sunglasses. The door-hangers and other helpful information can be downloaded from the foundation's Web site (www.givethegiftofsight.com/events/sightnight). Once you have collected your glasses, visit your local LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Lions Club, Sunglass Hut store or participating optometrist to drop off your donation by Nov. 9. All collected eyeglasses are cleaned, repaired and delivered to developing countries. Visit the Web site for details or call 877-605-4242.
Treat rather than trick
Random acts of kindness can be performed throughout the year, but Halloween is a great time to introduce the concept to your children if you haven't already done so. Bake Halloween cupcakes for your entire class or office. Make a card for your crossing guard or elderly neighbor. "BOO!" someone by leaving a secret bag of goodies on their doorstep.
Let's teach our children to care rather than scare this year. Most important, be safe, stick together and have fun.
Heidi Perez is a freelance writer and mother. She lives in Plantation.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun