1:30 PM EDT, October 25, 2013
The students at Glassell Park Elementary School in Los Angeles who assembled to talk about UNICEF's annual Trick-or-Treat program exploded in excited screams. And while the 63-year-old campaign that collects donations during Halloween for children in need is itself pretty special, the reaction was for the arrival of this year's celebrity ambassador of the program: Laura Marano, the star of Disney's "Austin & Ally."
"I get to be the voice of kids who are voiceless," Marano says. "My job is basically to talk to (students) and tell them they (can) make a difference (by) connecting with kids who are less fortunate, kind of enforcing our whole global community."
UNICEF's Trick-or-Treat campaign, which provides elementary school children with small orange boxes, and encourages them to ask for donations while on their Halloween rounds, was started in 1950, but only recently began touting celebrity ambassadors, including Selena Gomez, Chloe Grace Moretz and Heidi Klum. The program has raised more than $160 million for children in need, funding immunization, education, nutrition, health care, clean water and sanitation.
Marano stars in PSAs about the campaign and promotes it on her social media accounts, including Twitter, where she has more than 600,000 followers. She'll also be making a trip to New York the week of Halloween to spread the word.
In addition, she's promoting a component of the campaign introduced this year: Teachers who put together a creative presentation of the work their students are doing with Trick-or-Treat can win a trip to Africa. The five winning classrooms will receive a $1,000 grant. Marano explains that the feature allows children to see firsthand where the money is going.
Though adults are involved in the program, Marano makes a point to highlight the importance of the children in making it all work.
"Kids really have a lot more power than they think they have," she says. "They have the power to change the world. And they should know it."
History of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF
A Pennsylvania family is the first to collect coins on Oct. 31 for children left vulnerable by World War II.
The fundraiser's first TV appearance, when Lassie carries an orange collection box on the show.
TV's "Bewitched" devotes a full episode to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.
Halloween donations are dedicated to eradicating polio.