For kids with food allergies and their parents, Hallowe’en can be pretty scary. Collecting candy without knowing whether it contains potential allergens is risky, especially if kids are prone to serious reactions. It can also be disappointing for kids who have to give up half their candy at the end of the night.
That’s why Desiree Walters got involved in the Teal Pumpkin Project last year, “going out trick-or-treating and bringing home all this stuff that’s incredibly dangerous for him to eat was pretty scary.” Her son, Zayd, has FPIES, a rare syndrome that causes severe allergic reactions to many foods. She wanted him and other kids with allergies in her Brantford neighbourhood to have safe options to put in their treat bags.
The Teal Pumpkin Project started in the U.S. and is slowly gaining ground in Canada. It encourages people to put a teal pumpkin on their doorstep as a signal to kids with allergies that they have non-food treats to offer along with Hallowe’en candy. Pediatric allergist, Dr. Doug Mack, says it’s a welcome response to the growing number of kids with allergies, “about five to six per cent of children will have a food allergy. A recent study even showed up to ten per cent of kids had it.” Mack says candy often includes nuts, milk, gluten and other common food allergens, “and they’re not always clearly marked on these snack-sized candies. Often they’re on the bag that you buy and parents need to go online to find out if the snack-sized has the ingredients they’re concerned about.”
Because Hallowe’en is dark and busy, Mack says it can be hard for parents to monitor whether their kids are digging into their treat bags early. In extreme cases, touching a potential allergen and then putting your fingers in or near your mouth can trigger a reaction. That’s why he says non-food options are safer than trying to offer “nut free” or “gluten free” candy.
Walters will be handing out a variety of non-food items in a separate bowl from her candy offerings. She says last year, kids loved receiving stickers, bracelets and other little trinkets. She hopes as word spreads, more families will take part so kids with allergies can stop at every house and take a trick free treat from the bowl. For the second year in a row, she’s hosting a pumpkin painting party, supplying teal paint and brushes for anyone who brings a pumpkin to paint.
You can still participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and keep your pumpkin orange. Hanging this sign in your window is a signal to trick-or-treaters that you have non-food options.