Nine years ago, Renee Fry found herself complaining about Halloween. Her eight-year old son had Eosinophilic Esophagitis, a disorder that affects the gastrointestinal tract and restricts food consumption. She knew that any candy he received on Halloween would have to be taken away.
“I was not looking forward to Halloween because it is about candy and that’s all,” explained Fry.
She turned to her son’s nurse practitioner, Katy Slagle, for advice. This conversation was the beginning of the Non-Food Halloween Festival.
“It just got me thinking that I had never really thought about that as much as I had taken care of these kids,” Slagle said. “So, I started talking to some of my colleagues at the College of Nursing and started organizing what would be a non-food trick-or-treat so that the kids could come and trick-or-treat and dress up, but we wouldn’t give out candy. Instead, we would give out stickers, small toys and other fun stuff.”
The Non-Food Halloween Festival is now an annual event. Children and their families trick-or-treat around offices in the Health Sciences building. In a central area is a festival setting, complete with games, crafts and a haunted house. The only difference between this event and other Halloween festivals children may attend is that there is no food.
“If you think about it, Halloween is a very kid-centric holiday, but it is also a candy- and food-centered holiday,” said Slagle. “The festival is an opportunity for kids to dress up and celebrate the holiday without stress, because for these families Halloween truly is stressful. This event eliminates that stress.”
Over the years Slagle has realized that for many children, this event is the only way they celebrate Halloween. She welcomes all children who wish to participate, not just patients of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Families are encouraged to attend as well.
Elizabeth Lally, a nursing student, is the student coordinator for the event. She oversees the more than 20 volunteers who will help set up, run the event and take down the games and decorations afterwards. Lally views the event as an opportunity to give back to the community.
“I love knowing that we will make an impact and make memories for these children that they might otherwise not get to make,” she said.
Nine years later Fry and her family are still involved in the festival. Her son is now a teenager, and returns to the festival as a volunteer. This year he will help run the haunted house.
“Katy planned the event with us and other families that could not partake in the holiday in mind,” said Fry. “As a parent, to see there is an opportunity and an option that is nonfood, it is a huge stress relief.”
The ninth annual Non-Food Halloween Festival takes place Friday, Oct. 30 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Health Sciences building. The event is free to attend.
For more information, or to RSVP, contact Katy Slagle at (706) 721-4724.