If you spot teal pumpkins this Halloween season, they’re not just for decoration. Each brightly-colored gourd is sending an important message about inclusion for more than 5.9 million children under the age of 18 who live with food allergies. That’s one in 13 children, roughly two in every classroom.
Two of those 5.9 million children are the sons of Becky Basalone, the director of a local food allergy support group in Tennessee. For them, Halloween was scary, not because of ghosts and goblins, but because even touching candy that included an allergen — everything from dairy and nuts to eggs and soy — could send her sons into anaphylaxis or trigger a severe reaction.
So she had an idea: Why not paint a pumpkin teal (the color of food allergy awareness) and hand out non-food items? What she didn’t know was that her teal pumpkin would become a nationwide symbol for Halloween food-allergy awareness and go viral on social media.
The Teal Pumpkin Project Is Born
In 2014, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), a non-profit advocacy group, promoted the Teal Pumpkin Project with the help of a viral Facebook post that reached 2.7 million people in 72 hours. It quickly caught on. About 1 million people visited the group’s website to get information in 2015, and about 10,000 of them put their homes on an interactive map showing teal pumpkin sites.
The idea is simple — put a teal pumpkin or Teal Pumpkin Project sign on your porch to indicate you have non-food treats available for trick-or-treaters. The goal isn’t to remove candy from the Halloween tradition, but to make sure all kids can enjoy a safer, happier Halloween.
“My family is allergic to chocolate/cocoa, so Halloween can be frustrating for my kids,” said mom Kim Bongiorno. “Oftentimes they’d go to a door and not be able to take what’s offered. That’s why I’ve always offered non-food items in a separate bowl for food allergy kids who weren’t mine. The relief in the parents’ faces and happiness in the kids’ when they realized they could still get a ‘treat’ despite a food allergy was worth the extra effort.”
Kim puts out two separate bowls: one full of candy and one full of trinkets like glow sticks, whistles, fake fangs, and bubbles. The trinket bowl also has a big laminated Teal Pumpkin Project sign on it, clarifying that it’s safe to dig in.
“I happened to find a teal decorative pumpkin I set on the porch to catch the eye of families who might be looking for it,” she added, “and put a reminder on Facebook to local families that I participate in the project, in case they’re looking for safe places to go.”
Who Benefits From the Teal Pumpkin Project?
It’s not just kids with food allergies who benefit from the Teal Pumpkin Project. Children living with diabetes, gluten sensitivity and other food intolerances, feeding tubes, or any other special diet will surely enjoy a trinket instead of a candy treat.
As for the parents, they appreciate things like glow bracelets and necklaces because those items help make kids more visible after nightfall. Other non-food items, such as pencils and stickers, can be used at home and at school, whereas the candy is gone in an instant.
Nancy Gregory, Senior Director of Communications for FARE, added that because kids can be allergic to many different types of foods, people hoping to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project should look for products that are free of the top eight allergens, which include:
- Tree nuts
- Crustacean shellfish
The list above accounts for almost 90% of food allergies. Luckily, awareness about food-related allergies has been on the rise in recent years, and some stores have even created designated shelves for allergen-free options. “Some national retailers have sections of treats marked ‘allergy-friendly,’ so that would be a great place to start,” Gregory said.
If you’re interested in helping to create a safer, happier Halloween for every child, more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project can be found on the FARE website.
Teal Pumpkin Project. Food Allergy Research & Education. Retrieved from https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project
Born, Courtney (2014, October 23). Origin of the Teal Pumpkin Project. Allergic Living. Retrieved from https://www.allergicliving.com/2014/10/23/the-origin-of-the-teal-pumpkin-project-interview-with-becky-basalone-facet/