Halloween is a favorite holiday for kids throughout the Black Hills, but those with food allergies often miss out on the fun. They still get to dress up, but will never be able to answer the riddle, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? (The answer, if you’re curious, ranges from 144 to 411—enough of a spread to ensure this is one mystery that may never be solved, though it’s a tasty experiment to try).

Food Allergies are Common

Food allergies are common across the United States. It’s estimated that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18. That translates to about one in every 13 kids in South Dakota—close to 8 percent.

There are over 170 different foods that can cause allergic reactions, though most of the serious reactions can be blamed on the following eight foods:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Food allergies are nothing to be taken lightly. Ingesting a food you are allergic to triggers an immune system response that causes symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Coughing, wheezing, hives, itchiness in the mouth, tightness in the throat, and breathing difficulties may occur. Most serious of all is anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction that causes a sudden drop in blood pressure; airway constriction; rapid, weak pulse; skin rash; nausea and vomiting. Without immediate treatment of epinephrine, the patient may slip into a coma or die. For obvious reasons, kids with food allergies have traditionally been forced to skip Halloween.

What is the Teal Pumpkin Project?

The Teal Pumpkin Project was established in 2014 by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to food allergy awareness, education, and research. Two years earlier, Becky Basalone, the director of a Tennessee food allergy support group and mother of a child with severe food allergies, had the idea of painting a pumpkin teal—the color that symbolizes food allergy awareness—and handing out non-food treats to local trick-or-treaters. FARE liked the concept so much they decided to promote it, and the Teal Pumpkin Project went viral on social media, with five million people visiting the group’s Facebook page in 2014. It’s grown every year since.

There is no cost to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project. All you need to do is:

  1. Provide non-food treats for trick-or-treaters. You can still hand out candy, of course; just be sure to supplement that with allergy-friendly alternatives. Glow sticks, pencils, stickers, bouncy balls, and small toys are popular choices.
  2. Place a teal pumpkin on your doorstep to let kids and their parents know you have non-food treats available.
  3. Add your home to the Teal Pumpkin Project map.
  4. Spread the word by sharing information about the Teal Pumpkin Project with friends, family, and coworkers.

If you need help finding a teal pumpkin, FARE has created an extensive lineup of Teal Pumpkin Project merchandise, including items such as foam teal pumpkins and painting kits, available at many large retailers across the nation including Michael’s, Party City, and CVS. You can also visit FARE’s website for free resources such as flyers, yard signs, pumpkin stencils, and stickers to let others know you are participating.


WORDS BY MARK PETRUSKA