Trick-or-Treat for Disaster Relief

Are you thinking about how you can donate to the continued relief of the thousands of people affected by the recent scourge of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires? This Halloween, you might consider doing what a group of Tallahassee third graders did in 1989 and transform the anticipated custom of trick-or-treating into a grassroots pledge drive. Florida’s news media was there to capture this sweet story and the State Library and Archives of Florida has since preserved newspaper and television coverage of the students’ activism.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo ripped through Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina, leaving 27 dead and countless others displaced. A few weeks later, Hurricane Jerry slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas, killing three, including Tallahassee native and Coast Guard Seaman Dan Lindley and his two-year-old daughter Selina. Then, on October 17, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay to its core, claiming the lives of 200, injuring over 400 and causing millions in property damage. With natural disasters affecting people across the United States and the Caribbean, charitable organizations mobilized to raise money and donations for relief.

Clipping from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat, dating back to the early twentieth century. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Headline clipped from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat and its previous iterations dating from the early twentieth century to present. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memory has digitized and made searchable online 50,000 photographs from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection, ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

At Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee, third-grader Kelly Collette had a creative idea for how they could turn Halloween into a fundraiser for natural disaster victims. Two weeks before the October 31st holiday, Collette stood up in front of her classmates in teacher Sharon Hartman’s language arts class and suggested that they trick-or-treat for money instead of candy and donate the proceeds to the American Red Cross. The proposal went to a vote on the classroom floor. While it was not unanimously affirmed, with one sweet-toothed youngster commenting that “A lot of people would rather have the candy,” the majority of students agreed to forego their candy for a cause. “We want to help those people instead of getting candies and cavities and toothaches,” said eight-year-old Meg Wood to Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathleen Laufenberg.

The organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson. Photograph by Phil Cole, Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The youthful organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson, October 26, 1989. Photograph by Phil Coale/Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Nineteen third-graders strong, the trick-or-treating for disaster relief campaign got underway. After registering with the Red Cross, the kids in Miss Hartman’s class made collections bags, drew posters and wrote letters to other students, asking them to join in on the Halloween fundraiser. Impressed by her students’ initiative, Hartman said that organizing the natural disaster relief drive was a “great learning experience,” exposing budding minds to the ins and outs of social action.

Although it is unclear just how much money the students raised for the Red Cross, they did not go hungry after all.

On Halloween morning, a gaggle of costume-clad kids arrived in their classroom to prepare for a big night of fundraising. The story had already attracted the attention of a few local media outlets and the now-defunct Florida News Service came by the school to interview the students about their initiative. After the Florida News Service folded in 1991, the State Archives of Florida acquired a collection of 222 master story tapes, including colorful coverage of this harrowing Halloween story. In the middle of the segment, surprise visitor Raleigh Mackoul, president of the state tobacco and candy association, walked through the door with several pounds of sweet treats.

Mackoul said that after hearing about the plan from a Tallahassee lobbyist, he “thought that it was pretty good that the kids would give up going around to collect their Halloween treats to go collect money for the disaster victims….I didn’t think they ought to go through Halloween without candy.”

Want to help with this year’s natural disaster relief efforts?

Visit Volunteer Florida’s website for a comprehensive list of agencies in need of donations. Volunteer Florida, in partnership with the Division of Emergency Management, is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.