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Beth Reymann, owner of Pat's Porch, will hand out Halloween candy coins sold in her shop on Frederick Road during the first annual Catonsville Trunk-or-Treat at Hillcrest Elementary School Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Beth Reymann, owner of Pat's Porch, will hand out Halloween candy coins sold in her shop on Frederick Road during the first annual Catonsville Trunk-or-Treat at Hillcrest Elementary School Wednesday, Oct. 30. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

“Trunk-or-treat” events, in which costume-clad kids go from car to car for Halloween candy, are held at U.S. schools and churches every October. The one organized for Oct. 30 at Catonsville’s Hillcrest Elementary School will be much the same, but those who attend are also being asked to bring items to stock Hillcrest’s food pantry, which opened late last year.

EPIK Home Group, a real estate company in the Baltimore area, organized Hillcrest’s first trunk-or-treat program not only to support the school’s food pantry, but to bring together Catonsville businesses and families, said Ellie McIntire, owner of EPIK.

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The pantry began as a way to address “an increasing need” to assist Hillcrest students living below the poverty line, said Hillcrest Elementary School Principal Jennifer Lynch.

Families of 28% of Hillcrest students are living below the federal poverty level, Lynch said. For a family of four, that means earning a combined household income of $25,750. At Hillcrest, 198 of its 708 students fall into that category.

Lynch relies largely on donations from parents, businesses and individuals to keep the pantry stocked, and the school solicits supplies during food drives organized by the Student Support Network, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources for impoverished Baltimore County students. The donation of two refrigerators and freezers allows the school to store fruits and vegetables, many of which are harvested from the school’s garden, Lynch said.

In stocking the pantry, Lynch said the school is aiming to be mindful of families’ cultural, religious or dietary needs by offering a variety of foods. School counselors poll parents who use the pantry to gauge what items they need most; Lynch said baby items, like formula, wipes and diapers, are always a necessity.

Jennifer Lynch, principal of Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville, displays a bin of donated food in the school's community food pantry, which opened late last year. A trunk-or-treat event scheduled for Oct. 30 will benefit the pantry.
Jennifer Lynch, principal of Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville, displays a bin of donated food in the school's community food pantry, which opened late last year. A trunk-or-treat event scheduled for Oct. 30 will benefit the pantry. (Baltimore Sun)

Currently, the shelves carry canned goods, pasta, snacks, cereal, toiletries and baby items, but Lynch is hoping to bring in more fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly such items that have a longer shelf life, like apples, oranges and squash.

The pantry is open to the broader Catonsville community without proof of eligibility, Lynch said.

“We want to make sure they know this is an option for them to support their family,” she said.

For some assistance programs, those seeking food must provide documentation and set up appointments, Lynch said. “We don’t require documentation in any way. We just feel like if you are in need and you have asked … we will provide [for] you,” she said.

Those seeking assistance who don’t have children enrolled at Hillcrest must come in before or after school hours for their items, and can call for more information, Lynch said.

For students, Hillcrest’s two counselors and its teachers are responsible for engaging with kids whose families might need assistance. Some teachers fill about a half-dozen kids’ backpacks with food on Fridays to take home over the weekend. Most of the time, families just call when they need food, or teachers take items from the pantry for students who say they don’t have enough food at home, Lynch said.

“A lot of the time, teachers are the ones who are reaching out [to students], pulling the [food] and communicating with our families,” Lynch said.

McIntire, whose son attended Hillcrest Elementary, has been “instrumental” in efforts to support the pantry, Lynch said. In 2016, McIntire began sponsoring the nonprofit EPIK Kids in Action, a philanthropic group of second- to fifth-grade Hillcrest students to teach children “at a very early age … how to be generous, little human beings,” McIntire said.

Around 200 students at five Catonsville-area schools join EPIK Kids in Action each year, according to the real estate firm. Students in the Hillcrest program have decorated and filled lunch bags for McIntire to distribute to the homeless, collected food for the pantry and distributed it, created care packages for military members and visited local senior centers to play games and decorate for holidays, McIntire said.

The nonprofit is funded through a percentage taken from home sales by EPIK Home Group, and kicks in $10,000 to $15,000 to the program annually, McIntire said.

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For trunk-or-treat, at least 18 businesses, mostly in Catonsville, have committed to participating and have been asked to drive in trunk loads of candy in various Halloween-themed cars, with a trophy awarded to the business with the best decorations.

Participating businesses and organizations include Pat’s Porch; State Fare; B Boutique; Partistry Events; Better World Imaginarium; Dimitri’s International Grille; Baltimore Taekwon-Do; the Sterling-Ashton-Schwab-Witzke Funeral Home of Catonsville; Hunting Hills Swim Club and the Rotary Club of Catonsville.

Partistry Events, which won the Marie O’Day award for Best in Show at this year’s Catonsville Fourth of July Parade, was planning to create a “larger than life” spider to mount on the car that will be outfitted with large balloon decorations, said Flavia Oleniewski, a balloon artist and owner of Partistry.

Following in the spider theme, Beth Reymann, proprietor of Pat’s Porch, said her personal vehicle will be decorated with spider webs.

Tying the food drive to trunk-or-treat is “a fun way to collect donations” instead of just dropping off canned goods, Reymann said.

Sterling funeral home will be rolling in a hearse stocked with candy and decorated with jack-o’-lanterns, said Heather Brown, funeral home location manager and mortician.

“It’s gonna be a huge draw for the community,” said Evan Brown, owner of State Fare restaurant. Recognizing that transportation is an issue for families whose earnings fall below the poverty level, bus transportation to and from the Hillcrest parking lot, where trunk-or-treat is being held, has been arranged for areas in the Hillcrest school district. That way, “our families who are going to benefit from our food pantry also have the opportunity to participate in trunk-or-treat,” Lynch said.

More than 200 people are signed up to attend trunk-or-treat, and Catonsville High School students are volunteering as “peer buddies” to run the event, McIntire said. If the first trunk-or-treat is successful, McIntire plans to continue it in the future.

“We’re excited to have the entire community participate,” Lynch said. “We want our community to know we’re here not only to serve [Hillcrest students], but also anybody who is in need within the Catonsville community.”

Trunk-or-treat is scheduled to run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at 1500 Frederick Road on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

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