HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Pine Belt families are trying to make trick-or-treating friendlier for children with food allergies by adding a teal pumpkin to their Halloween decor and non-food items to goodie bags.
Food Allergy Education and Research, or FARE, started the Teal Pumpkin Project "to promote safety, inclusion and respect of individuals managing food allergies," according to its website. FARE said households in 50 states and seven countries participated in the project to ensure the one in 13 children in U.S.with a food allergy has a safe and fun Halloween. This year, the goal is 100,000 households.
"Many popular Halloween candies contain nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat, which are some of the most common allergens in children and adults," according to FARE. "Additionally, many miniature or fun-size versions of candy items contain different ingredients than their full-size counterparts and some miniature candy items may not have labels, so it is difficult for parents to determine whether these items are safe for their child with food allergies."
Christina Overstreet understands that difficulty first hand. Her now 3-year-old daughter Caylee was diagnosed with severe peanut and tree nut allergies at only four months old.
"With Halloween, we've always been big trick-or-treaters, but after her allergies were diagnosed, it's 'what do we do?'" Overstreet said. "It wasn't only her having to change things and miss out, our other children as well.'
Overstreet said she's been trying to raise awareness of the Teal Pumpkin Project since Caylee's first Halloween.
"Going trick-or-treating without the teal pumpkin is terrifying because even if they have safe options and they're in a bowl with other nut products, you still can't have them" Overstreet said. "So to have the teal pumpkin and be able to see a place immediately, I can kind of hang back and let her have the full experience. Go up to the door, knock and kind of oversee it instead of being constantly on edge. Last year when we went trick-or-treating, I packed four EpiPens just in case."
The Asthma and Allergy Clinic of Hattiesburg is a locally promoting the project this year, and Dr. Charlene Broome, who is also a mom of two children with food allergies, said the project ensures safety and fun for all trick-or-treaters.
"Halloween and Fall Festival time is a very stressful time for families with food allergies because you have to be so very careful about checking every piece of candy that goes into that trick-or-treat bucket," Broome said. "By participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, we agree to provide non-food treats for our trick-or-treaters, so that our food allergy children are not exposed to things that may make them very sick."
Overstreet said, "Last year when we went, there were three houses that had teal pumpkins, so those were exciting because she got to get goodie bags that had non-food treats. So that makes her happy."
When picking out non-food items, FARE still had some safety suggestions.
"First, some non-food items still contain food allergens, such as some brands of moldable clay, which may contain wheat," FARE said. "Additionally, try to choose latex-free items, as there are children who have latex allergies."
Dr. Broome suggested items like glow sticks, spider rings, vampire fangs and Halloween temporary tattoos. She said she does still give out candy at her house, but ensures it doesn't contain milk, eggs or nuts. Overstreet said her go to allergy safe candy is Dum Dum lollipops.
FARE provides a map of homes who have signed the Teal Pumpkin pledge for food-allergy families to use on the 31st.