Sandtown Halloween Festival provides a fun, safe holiday experience

Safety concerns keep many of the children in Betsy Camak’s first-grade class from going trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Some of their parents worry about the violent crime that plagues many West Baltimore neighborhoods after nightfall. It’s often considered too dangerous, Camak says, to send young children door-to-door with empty pillowcases, waiting to be filled with candy.

To ensure her students still get a Halloween experience, Camak brought her class on Friday to the annual Sandtown Halloween Festival. The first-graders from Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School picked pumpkins from a “pumpkin patch” and collected trick-or-treat bags full of candy and school supplies. Each was offered a free pair of gloves and a winter hat, too.

“With all the crime in the community and the city, period, this is an extremely secure and safe place for the children and teachers,” Camak said. “It brings the community together.”

More than 2,000 children from five schools and 10 day cares in West Baltimore were expected at the festival, sponsored by FutureCare Health and Management and hosted in the lot behind the corporation’s Sandtown branch.

Some of the kids showed up as power rangers, others as princesses. With their faces painted, many danced around with the Ravens’ mascot or jumped in a moon bounce.

FutureCare’s vice president of business development Diane Vernon said it’s meaningful to host the family-friendly festival in the heart of Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up. Gray was 25 years old when he died of injuries sustained in police custody, touching off widespread unrest in April 2015.

“There’s such a sense of community here and people didn’t get to see that during the riots,” Vernon said.

Terrica Conyers brings her daughters, age 4 and 5, to the festival every year. The girls love bringing home candy and picking out a special pumpkin from the patch, which they proudly display at home.

Public officials also joined in the celebration. Moments after Sen. Ben Cardin walked in, he looked around and smiled.

“This is incredible,” he said. “Just look at the kids’ faces.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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