MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Brightly colored pumpkins will be lining Maplewood Avenue in the village at the annual Halloween parade to let families know that non-food treats will be available to children with allergies. Pencils, glow sticks and other non-edible items will be thrown into children’s plastic pumpkins and pillow cases in support of the Teal Pumpkin Project, an awareness campaign in support of food allergies. The project started in Tennessee by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee and has spread throughout the country; it was brought to Maplewood by resident Emily Konopinski-Trunk.
“I took my son to the parade last year and felt like we were dodging candy bombs,” Konopinski-Trunk told the News-Record in a phone interview on Oct. 19. Her 2-year-old son, August, is allergic to milk, soy and nuts, making it difficult to find candy he can eat. “The teal pumpkins are put on people’s front steps to say that they have things other than just candy,” she said.
After seeing an episode of the television show “Atypical,” in which a high school adapted a school dance for students with autism, she did some research and came across the Teal Pumpkin Project. In a matter of a few weeks, Konopinski-Trunk was able to make the Maplewood parade adaptable for her son and other children like him.
Lorraine Labonne-Storch, executive director of the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce, the parade’s organizer, was an early proponent of the idea, along with Konopinski-Trunk. After hearing about it, she took it to the other members of the Chamber of Commerce.
“Teal Pumpkins is in line with what Maplewood is all about,” Labonne-Storch told the News-Record in a phone interview on Oct. 23. “This is fun for everyone, and it will bring all those kids in who couldn’t participate.”
The Maplewood Lions Club is sponsoring the Teal Pumpkins portion of the parade. Konopinski-Trunk, membership chairwoman for the Lions, said that in addition to the erasers, stickers and games that will find their way into the hands of excited children on Halloween, there will be information about food allergies available in order to raise awareness of them.
According to nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education, one in 13 children has a life-threatening food allergy. The hope in adding the Teal Pumpkin Project to the Maplewood Halloween Parade is that children who might have never been able to go to the parade in the past might be able to participate this year.
“We hope that it creates relief and peace of mind for parents of kids with allergies,” Labonne-Storch said. “And it will add a great deal of fun for those kids. We’re grateful to Emily for bringing this to our attention and to the merchants for really embracing it.”
“You can only account for so many things,” Konopinski-Trunk said, referring to parents of children with food allergies making sure there are options for them during holidays and birthday parties. “So often they’re isolated and it’s scary. Parts of the community shouldn’t have to be excluded from celebrations. So many people wanted to do this, and that means a lot.”
Konopinski-Trunk, a self-described Halloween fanatic, said she doesn’t want August and other children like him to miss out of the Halloween festivities just because they can’t eat the candy.
“Eating is such an integral part of life,” she said. “It’s obviously necessary to survive, but it’s a social activity and a routine, too. Having an allergy really gets in the way. I wouldn’t want my son to miss out of this part of his childhood because he can’t have candy. I hope (the Teal Pumpkin Project) raises the research and the awareness.”
Photos Courtesy of Emily Konopinski-Trunk