Halloween can be scary for all the wrong reasons when your child is one of the nearly 6 million kids in the US with a potentially life-threatening food allergy. That’s 1 in 13 children, or approximately 49,000 children in the Portland metro area.* 

For them, what should be a care-free night of trick-or-treating with friends could end with a visit to the ER, or worse. And it’s not only Snickers and Peanut M&Ms that can mean trouble. Of the foods that cause 90% of allergic reactions (dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, egg, fish and shellfish) all but the last three are regularly found in Halloween candy.

Enter the Teal Pumpkin Project, a nationwide campaign that aims to make Halloween safer and more inclusive. It started in Tennessee when allergy mom Becky Basalone painted a pumpkin teal, the color for food allergy awareness, and put it on her porch. It was a sign to trick-or-treaters that non-food treats like googly eyes and spider rings were available if a child couldn’t eat the candy she was passing out. Thanks to social media, and later the efforts of Food Allergy Research and Education, this idea has spread across the country, all the way to Portland. 

The Teal Pumpkin Project also benefits children with other medical conditions. Chrystal McMahon, Beaverton mother of a preschooler with type 1 diabetes, is thrilled whenever she sees a home with a teal pumpkin. “It means so much to my family to know that children like our son are thought of and can safely be included.”

Participating is easy.

1. Display a teal pumpkin. You can buy teal craft pumpkins or paint a real one.

2. Post a sign explaining what it means. Free printable signs are available at  www.tealpumpkinproject.org.

3. Put inexpensive, non-food treats in a separate bowl to avoid cross contact with allergens that may be present on candy wrappers. 

4. Consider offering everyone a choice between candy and a non-food treat, so kids with special needs don’t have to speak up and stand out. 

In Portland, there’s even a Teal Pumpkin Halloween Party. It’s hosted by Food-Free Fun for Everyone, a local organization founded by a group of allergy/celiac moms. They put on food-free social events where children with allergies and restrictions can forget for a moment about their medical conditions and just be kids. 

Portland mom Anna Cornett said watching her son freely participate in all the activities last year brought tears to her eyes. “This party meant the world to us!”  

This year’s party is October 26 in NE Portland. Registration is required. For details, head to www.foodfreefun.org

*according to the Center for Disease Control and the US Census

Elizabeth Moreno
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