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No Treat for You! 

How the Halloween candy-gathering tradition is adapting to the modern world

click to enlarge CHRISTIAN WILSON
  • Christian Wilson

In many ways, the “trick” concept of trick-or-treating has faded away as part of the door-to-door Halloween night tradition — unless you count those troublesome neighborhood pumpkin smashers.

But with one local dentist offering kids money for their Halloween candy, and the growing availability of activities designed to take kids off dark streets and unfamiliar porches — combined with concerns about childhood obesity — is the “treat”-centric side of Halloween next to slip away?

It’s hard to say. The National Confectioners Association estimates that 93 percent of kids partake in the Halloween ritual. And while the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t track the number of kids who actually go out and knock on doors, there are roughly 41 million kids across the country between the ages of 5 and 14 — considered the prime trick-or-treating age.

The National Confectioners Association also reports that 90 percent of parents will sneak goodies when their kids aren’t looking. Can’t say we’re surprised.

Craig Hunt, a Spokane nutritionist and dietitian — as well as the father of two trick-or-treat-aged daughters — recommends that parents help their kids control the intake of Halloween sweets through simple rationing. But, he cautions, “If you demonize food, it creates more of a demand.”

“You don’t want to come in and swipe it, but maybe put one or two pieces with their lunch every day,” Hunt says. “If you meter out a couple of pieces at a time, they won’t feel significantly deprived.”

Getting an 8-year-old to give up even some of their hard-earned Halloween candy could be a battle many parents wouldn’t want to fight, but Liberty Lake pediatric dentist Jared Evans is offering something even the most candy-loving kid might not want to refuse: money. This is the fifth year Evans has advertised a Halloween candy buy-back at his practice, both in the name of keeping kids’ teeth healthier and to give back to America’s military troops overseas.

On Nov. 1 from 4 pm-7 pm, kids can bring their excess candy to his office and get $1 for each pound. In past years, Evans says each child left with around $5. Last year, the dental practice sent more than 1,000 pounds of candy to Operation Gratitude, a California-based organization that puts the treats in care packages, along with other items, that are sent to troops overseas.

Still, Evans’ main advice: let kids enjoy Halloween. “Have fun, come back, pick out your favorite candy and eat it and be done,” he says. “You don’t need a pillow sack full of candy. Kids snack on it when they get home from school for months.”

Beyond their teeth, parents are increasingly worried about their kids’ safety on Halloween. In the past several years, residents of neighborhoods around the Inland Northwest might have noticed a drop in candy-crazed, ghoulishly-clad children tromping up and down the streets on Halloween night.

Halloween-themed kid’s carnivals organized by local schools and churches are just one indoor alternative to trick-or-treating. Most of the area shopping malls offer candy handouts, and Trunk-or-Treat — a recently introduced event aimed at keeping kids safe on Halloween — has also gained traction.

The Northtown branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Spokane County has hosted Trunk-or-Treat for several years. The event itself is exactly what its name suggests: instead of houses, kids go around asking for sweets handed out from the back of people’s cars in a parking lot.

To make it more fun and festive, the branch’s marketing director, Erin McGann, says participants are encouraged to decorate their cars. Last year about 50 cars distributed candy to almost 700 kids. She says the Mead-area branch is also hoping to host its own Trunk-or-Treat this year if it gains enough interest.

Participants are asked to only hand out pre-packaged candy, and McGann says the club takes that request pretty seriously. “We work with hundreds of kids a day, so we’re used to handling kid safety and that is why, to be honest, we started this,” she says.

Another local Halloween event that keeps the young’uns off the street while also taking away some of the focus on candy is ConnectPoint Church’s free Halloween Carnival, now in its third year and open to parents and their kids, under age 10.

Event organizer Abigail Gilmore says she expects more than 1,000 people to attend this year’s carnival at the Lincoln Center. Instead of going from house-to-house — or car-to-car — she says kids will have the chance to earn coveted Halloween candy by playing games. Then they can work off their sugar highs in a bouncy castle before it’s time to head home. 

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