Teal pumpkins outside a home mean Halloween treats are safe for children with food allergies

Here's what it means when you see a teal pumpkin while you're out trick-or-treating.

This story was originally published by the Indianapolis Star in 2015.

Teal is the new orange this Halloween for many families.

A national campaign, called the Teal Pumpkin Project, is encouraging parents to offer non-food treats for children with food allergies and to mark their intent by placing a teal-colored pumpkin outside their home.

Parents of children with food allergies have embraced the movement.

Last year before the holiday, Michelle Dennis went to about 10 of her neighbors in the Virginia community where she lived and gave them toys, such as a Matchbox car or dinosaur, to hand to her 1-year-old son Cole, who is allergic to milk protein. Look for the boy dressed as a cow, she said.

This year, Dennis will be watching for teal pumpkins in her Greenwood, Ind., neighborhood. She has two teal pumpkins on her porch and will be doling out bubbles.

"I know they're safe," she said. "They're something fun that any kid can enjoy."

For 7-year-old Joseph Sexson, Halloween has always come with a share of disappointment. The first-grader is allergic to milk, eggs and peanuts, ruling out some of the tasty treats his older sister, who has no food allergies, enjoys.

After six years of trick-or-treating, Joseph's parents have worked out a routine whereby they carefully check Joseph's goodies. They have him hand over his Reese's peanut butter cups and the like to his sister in exchange for foods that are safe for him, such as Skittles and pretzels.

Still, his mother, Heidi Sexson, knows the holiday is not as fun for him as it could be.

"It does bother him that he doesn't get the same things as other people," Sexson said. "He is so excited when it's a treat he can have."

This year, Sexson plans to paint a craft pumpkin teal to let trick-or-treaters know that if they have allergies they can find safe alternatives at her home. Many of her neighbors have said they will participate.

It's all part of a campaign promoted by Food Allergy Research & Education, a McLean, Va.-based organization. Last year, the chapter in east Tennessee originated the idea.

National leadership started spreading the word, said Veronica LaFemina, vice president of communications. Teal was a natural choice, as it has been the color for food allergy awareness for almost two decades.

Halloween has long been a challenge for the families of the 1 in 13 children in the U.S. who suffer from food allergies, LaFemina said. This isn't meant to be a buzz kill for other children but to help out those who may feel like Halloween is all trick and no treat.

"We're not looking to replace candy, but there is a way to be inclusive and ensure that all trick-or-treaters who come to your door can leave with a smile," LaFemina said.

Nor is it just kids with food allergies who may appreciate the campaign. Those with diabetes, celiac disease and other health problems may benefit.

Her 5-year-old son, Elias, has a peanut allergy.

"I think part of the Teal Pumpkin Project is to bring awareness to those who are unaware of food allergies. It's kind of something people can't relate to. They don't understand how severe a nut allergy can be if it's ingested. It'll be great to have someone come to our porch on Halloween and say, 'Oh, my gosh, I've been seeing this everywhere. What is it?' It'll allow us to help educate people and maybe next year, they'll do it, too."

In addition to passing out peanut-free candy, Habib said she'll have a separate bowl full of pencils, stickers, tattoos, spider rings, stencils and crayons to hand out to kids like Elias.

"I think this year it'll be fun for my kids — more fun for them than last year," she said.

Some families have been doling out non-food treats for years. Ericka Perron, a health coach, usually gives out pencils, crayons and spider rings to kids who ring her Irvington, Ind., doorbell.

None of the 300 or so trick-or-treaters has complained.

"It's an awesome reaction from the kids. They get really excited about having something that they can take to school," she said.

Though there's no way to gauge precisely how many people are taking part in the project this year, LaFemina said.

"What I can tell you is that our first two Facebook posts about the campaign have reached 5.2 million people and were shared 52,000 times.

"So we're thrilled because we know this means there'll be a lot of people embracing the Teal Pumpkin Project on the day of Halloween itself."

Contributing: Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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