For Kimberly Lawrence, Halloween is an unsettling holiday.
Three of her four children suffer from food allergies, including dairy, eggs and soy, causing them to break out in hives or eczema or become so congested it leads to a chest infection. Most years, that means empty or bare trick-or-treat bags.
Not this year. On a recent afternoon, Lawrence joined neighbors in Fort Worth’s Fairmount neighborhood to paint pumpkins the color teal. Called the Teal Pumpkin Project, the nationwide movement aims to increase awareness of serious allergies by encouraging people to provide non-food treats to little trick-or-treaters.
“Halloween can be quite isolating,” said Lawrence, as she waited for her kids’ pumpkins to dry. “My kids can’t come home and dig into their trick-or-treat bags like most kids.”
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Launched by the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education, the project asks families to place the teal pumpkins in front of their home so those with allergies know the treats are safe. The organization hopes to have 100,000 households sign up this year.
Teal Pumpkin Projects in Tarrant County are in Arlington, Fort Worth, Saginaw, Roanoke, Grapevine and Springtown, according to a website map.
On Halloween, Lawrence and her family will forgo candy and hand out treats like glow sticks, bubbles and stickers.
Sara Karashin, who organized the pumpkin painting party in Fairmount, said she got the idea to join when she overheard two mothers chatting at the grocery store while they studied ingredient lists for known allergens. Although her own children do not have allergies, she knows many who do.
To help, the Fairmount Community Library will host a teal pumpkin approved fall festival on Halloween with a bounce house, games, a costume contest and plenty of non-food treats at Fairmount Park.
“We all need to be aware of this,” Karashin said. “How frightening would it be for your children to have life-threatening allergies.”
Food allergies are a growing public health issue that affects one in 13 children, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, yet scientists have not established a clear reason why they are on the rise.
Among those affected is Julie Madison’s 6-year-old son, who has a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Even touching peanut residue can send him to the hospital, and he is at risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause the body to go into shock.
One year, Madison’s son went trick-or-treating and wore gloves to pick through his treat bag. Last Halloween, the family stayed home and handed out non-food treats. She also has employed the “switch witch,” where her son trades in his candy for a toy.
This year, the Keller mother invited some neighbors to paint teal pumpkins, and her son will go trick-or-treating at a few homes in their neighborhood.
“Halloween makes me nervous,” Madison said. “I want him to feel included, but we have to be very, very careful. He misses out, but we’re hoping to change that.”
Non-food treats for Halloween
Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
Pencils, pens, crayons or markers
Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
Whistles, kazoos, or noisemakers
Finger puppets or novelty toys
Source: Food Allergy Research and Education
Walk for Food Allergy
The DFW FARE Walk for Food Allergy will be at 9 a.m. Saturday at Oak Point Park in Plano.