Last Halloween, you may have noticed something out of the ordinary. On porches across America, usually adorned with various displays of spooky, comical and downright artistic orange pumpkins, there appeared a most curious sight: a teal pumpkin. You may or may not have known the significance, but the teal pumpkin has become a universal symbol that a particular house provides non-food, or at least allergen free items, to trick or treaters. For many parents throughout the nation, the pumpkins were a beacon of light in what can sometimes be a very dark and stressful time for allergy sufferers, particularly children. Managing children’s food allergies can be a difficult endeavor that leaves many parents feeling overwhelmed and under-supported. But sometimes the right mix of timing, support and the remarkable power of good ole fashioned parental love can give rise to the most amazing phenomena.
The following story is one mom’s journey, which began when she reached out to her community to help her son have a safe and healthy Halloween and quickly brought the same reality to food allergic kids across the country.
How it Started
Two years ago, in 2012, Becky Basalone’s youngest son was diagnosed with multiple life threatening food allergies. Becky, her older son and several of her extended family members also suffered from serious food allergies. As a result, Becky started a support group in her local community in east Tennessee called the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET) to connect with more families experiencing similar issues. FACET’s mission is to “improve the social aspect of food allergy through support, education, and advocacy as a group of individuals and families affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.”
During one Halloween event, Becky’s son painted their pumpkin teal as part of their “Trunk or Treat trunk décor.” When the event was over, he proudly displayed the pumpkin on their porch along with their traditional pumpkins. The family also handed out non-food items as part of their “trick” basket that allowed children to choose between a “trick” (toys such as spooky spider rings, eye patches, slime, glow sticks, stickers, matchbox cars, crayons, etc.) or a “treat” (a food item). The practice of painting the pumpkins teal and passing out non-food items soon became a family tradition, and the local community caught on.
FARE and FACET Team Up
Since FACET was a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) support group, it seemed only natural the two should collaborate to bring the program to other communities. At first, FACET members created posters and flyers detailing how to participate in what they called “Food Allergy Awareness Pumpkins.” They educated residents about food cross contamination issues, encouraged participants to hang a sign on the door and/or paint their pumpkins teal to indicate they were an allergy-friendly Halloween stop and that non-food treats were available. The information was also posted on social media, where it went viral and was ultimately spotted by the FARE leadership team.
The Birth of the Teal Pumpkin Project
When FARE released the information about the Teal Pumpkin Project on their website, there was an immediate response on the Internet. In fact, the story reached almost 3 million parents and advocates in less than 72 hours from FARE’s first post on Facebook. People from every state were thrilled to learn about and pass the news along. The reaction was so prevalent, CNN later picked up the news story, and the rest, as they say, was history.
At a time when food allergies can create an isolating effect on children who suffer from their dangerous effects, the Teal Pumpkin Project allows parents to feel connected to others in their communities in a positive way and around a time-honored childhood tradition. Both allergy sufferers and the general public can participate in a manner that brings cohesiveness rather than divisiveness to a community. One simple act of compassion can help a child experience childhood events without the fear of negative social sanctions or associated health risks.
Join the movement and be sure to prominently display your Teal Pumpkin at Halloween next year.