The Teal Pumpkin Project Raises Food Allergy Awareness on Halloween

Kids allergic to nuts, milk and more can look for pumpkins painted blue-green to find homes giving safe treats, thanks to The Teal Pumpkin Project.

Imagine coming home from a night of trick-or-treating. Your child picks up one of her newly acquired candy bars and takes a big bite. Suddenly, her face begins to swell — and your Halloween festivities turn into a race to the hospital.

It’s the fear of many parents to kids with food allergies. But thanks to a growing campaign, Halloween doesn’t have to be so scary for them – as long as they look for the teal pumpkins.

How the teal pumpkins work

The Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by the national nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education, promotes a positive Halloween experience for all by encouraging homes to add non-food items to their roster of treats for kids that can’t eat candy.

The concept is simple. Houses participating in the project either make a teal pumpkin or paint a pumpkin teal (the color of food allergy awareness) and leave on their porch. Once they have their pumpkin, they should add their house to the Teal Pumpkin Project’s map.

Then, come the night of Oct. 31, these houses pass out non-food treats like stickers, glow sticks, Halloween rings, pencils, bouncy balls and related items — most of which can be found for cheap and in bulk at dollar or party supply stores.

The teal pumpkins signify that a house is allergy-friendly and let kids know this is where they can find goodies that are good for them. These houses can pass out candy, too but it should be kept in a separate bowl.

Goals: fun and awareness

The movement was started in 2012 by the mom director of the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee and taken national by FARE in 2014. And it’s definitely spreading to southeast Michigan. Rochester mom Lisa Rutter, whose son has a peanut and tree-nut allergy, is among those getting involved.

“It’s crazy how many states, and even throughout Michigan, are covering The Teal Pumpkin Project” in news reports, says Rutter, who’s also a group leader of the No Nuts Moms Group in southeast Michigan. “There’s a misconception that we are trying to eliminate candy from Halloween, but that’s not the point. The point is to make sure that there are safe options for every child — and also to raise awareness.”

While it may be hard to tally how many people will participate, “It’s definitely catching on,” Rutter says. And for good reason: It’s letting kids with this special need get more involved in the fright-night fun.

“My child can go to the door and have something that he can actually keep for Halloween — that would mean a lot to him. He likes to get dressed up and go out. It would be nice for him to have options.”

Ideas for non-food goodies

If you have a child with food allergies and can’t find many teal pumpkins in your neighborhood, Rutter has a suggestion for parents.

“We do something called the ‘Halloween Fairy,'” she says. “The Halloween Fairy only visits allergy-friendly kids. When he gets back from trick-or-treating, there’s a basket-full of treats he can have.” Rutter prefers certain products made in Canada, which she says does a more thorough job of labeling ingredients.

You can also include a variety of non-food treats in the basket — and stock them for other kids if you’re handing out goodies, too. Stumped on what to give? Try websites like Amazon and Oriental Trading for great options, FARE suggests. And browse this list from FARE, which suggests a variety of novelty knickknacks for kids:

  • Bookmarks
  • Bounce balls
  • Bubbles
  • Crayons, markers, pencils or pens
  • Erasers or pencil toppers
  • Finger puppets or similar novelty toys
  • Glow sticks, bracelets or necklaces
  • Kazoos, noisemakers or whistles
  • Little notepads
  • Playing cards
  • Small Slinky toys
  • Spider rings
  • Stencils
  • Stickers
  • Vampire fangs

Conversely, FARE notes, there are a few non-food items to avoid, since they still contain some allergens – examples include Plah-Doh (which has wheat) and latex toys (some kid have allergies to latex).

“You can keep the experience safe by keeping your food treats and non-food treats in separate bowls,” FARE adds on its website, “and by asking trick-or-treaters if they have any food allergies or giving them a choice of which treat they’d like: candy or a non-food item.”

More Colorful Pumpkin Meanings

The Teal Pumpkin project isn’t the only way that you and your family can be more inclusive on Halloween.

If you see a purple pumpkin on a doorstep, it means that the house is free of strobe-lighting or other effects that could cause seizures in those that have epilepsy.

And a blue pumpkin means that your home is autism-friendly. Maybe you have fidget toys in your goodie bowl and you don’t expect verbal interaction from every child.

This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly. 

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