Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fundraise by Fright

When I was about six years old, my two intensely creative older sisters and the spunky girls down the street got together to put on an old fashioned spook alley in our two car garage. They sold tickets for a quarter or so and lined up excited neighborhood children to shuffle through the dark in hopes of a mild adrenaline rush. I distinctly remember the bowls of "spaghetti brains" and peeled grape "eyeballs" which we were encouraged to touch. Thankfully we've come a long way since the sixties; the scale and variety of haunted houses has steadily improved. The neighborhood feel is still there, with schools and community organizations generating hundreds of volunteer hours to showcase their creative talent to celebrate Halloween.

Whether it's just a community building activity at your own home, like my brother's friend Scott, or a fundraiser for your favorite charity, haunted houses are a big draw this year. Jill Soltau, a board member with Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto, CA, thought it would be a good fit for our theatre students to help plan their Spook Alley. The neighborhood elementary school, Fairmeadow, has been a unifying force for the parents to come together in preparing "Scaremeadow," which now contributes major donations to the PTA. And Candle Lighters of Fremont, CA has produced a family-friendly and affordable Halloween haunt for the past 40 years, Ghost House, to raise money for area nonprofits. All of these rely on the talent and time contribution of volunteers to run, and in turn donate valuable funds to community organizations like the gardens, the PTA, and other nonprofit causes.

As a mom of teenagers with their own agenda, I may have to borrow some younger children if I'm to reminisce with a good old fashioned spook alley this year. However, I can still make a difference by either "Trick or Canning," collecting canned food for Gunn High School's Key Club, or the Baskin-Robbins sponsored event "Trick or Treat for Unicef." The latter strikes a chord with me, bringing back memories from the year after the spook alley. I was at a new school, and all the rage was to carry around a little orange Halloween box to collect donations for underprivileged children in third-world countries. As an extremely shy eight-year-old, I eventually got used to the idea of collecting money sometimes in lieu of candy (blasphemy!) The first time I arrived home with a Unicef box full of coins I was quite pleased to see the generosity of my neighbors.The children later took the boxes to school for tabulating the results for class-to-class comparison. I don't remember if I was in a "winning class" for contributions, but it must have been a positive experience as got chills when I saw the boxes had re-surfaced--at Baskin Robbins, of all places.

If you want to feel like a kid again this weekend, try donating to a community organization by visiting a haunted house--99% of them are fundraisers for a cause you can feel good about. If you're motivated to make a difference beyond Halloween, try a "Trick or Canning" event for the local food bank or shelter. Just as fun and not as scary as a haunted house, Unicef can always use our help . When we trick or treat for Unicef and take the coins and bills collected to a Coinstar machine (for locations:, we can feel like we are making a difference in the larger world around us. The funds will help to provide these necessities for children: water, school supplies, emergency blankets, and immunizations. When we have so much, and our family-fun holiday starts to look a little gluttonous, it's good to remember part of the fun is giving to others in the immediate or world-wide community.

Check out these ghoulish family fundraising and community service activities!


Trick or Treat for Unicef

Sponsored by Baskin-Robbins, pick up the small classic orange donation box at 31 Flavors, trick or treat to collect money, then take your donations to any Coinstar Center (see for locations). Learn more at:

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