Dear Umbra,

We really enjoy the community aspect of trick-or-treating but we don’t want to give out candy to the little ones, or toxic plastic Chinese toys. Two hundred kids come to our house every Halloween. How do we keep it green, safe, and economical?

Jodi McMillian
Charleston, W.Va.

Dearest Jodi,

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Two hundred children? How did you keep it economical last year? Let’s see, if you were to buy a bag of mini Snickers with 70 in the bag, and that cost $20, and you need let’s say 300 Snickers to scantily cover your bases, that’s $100 for Halloween candy. Gadzooks.

Trick or treat.

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Not all little Chinese plastic gizmos are proven toxic yet, you know. The San Jose Mercury News has a list of actually recalled items, and the feds keep a handy database, but we might as well use this opportunity to stop buying plastic Chinese stuff. So how do we have Halloween with no Chinese imports, no candy, and no food (razors!)?

You need something cheap that is easily available in bulk, and that is acceptable to children. What do kids want, if not silly toys and tasty candy? Pens and pencils, and tiny boxes of crayons, are a traditional, sort of academically focused item. You could also buy several boxes of fat markers and strew them about in baskets; if you combined all these drawing utensils, children of varying ages will be able to choose one they like. Small musical instruments like kazoos, mouth harps, and whistles could be fun, if they aren’t made of toxic Chinese plastic. Stickers, temporary tattoos, and trading cards are small and cheap. You could look up a variety of knock-knock jokes at the library, pick 10, and print each one on 30 business card-sized papers. There, that’s my big idea — knock-knock jokes.

Choose amongst these ideas and a few more. Then, the key to your success in surviving the gauntlet as a candy-free house: you need to find a few children, of various ages, and make a little focus group. Or ask them individually. Of all the items you have on your list, do the children find any of them palatable? Are any exciting enough, or will all of them leave trick-or-treaters feeling deflated? What other noncandy items do the children recommend adding to your list? Maybe you even could take some children shopping with you.

And don’t forget last year’s suggestion, of gathering all your exciting but no longer used costume jewelry, books, toys, and music recordings, and adding those to the porch offerings.


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