When you think about fall colors, most folks think of browns, yellows, and oranges — the color of those fallen leaves — along with some black to go with Halloween. And if you've been paying attention, you may notice that teal is becoming a popular fall/Halloween color. You've probably seen teal pumpkins among the orange on some of your neighbor’s doorsteps this October, but why? What does a teal pumpkin mean? It's more than just a statement piece.
According to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) website, all those teal pumpkins are part of the Teal Pumpkin Project, a campaign that started in Tennessee back in 2014 by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET). The campaign’s goal is “to reach families across the country and around the world with the Teal Pumpkin Project’s messages of awareness, inclusion and community.” And the awareness and inclusion they're talking about? Children with food allergies.
Many types of Halloween candy are not very friendly to kids who have severe food allergies. There are nuts, soy, peanut butter — you name it. Some kids are even allergic to chocolate. The teal pumpkin indicates to trick-or-treaters and their parents that this particular house has allergy-friendly treats for kids with food allergies, and that’s no trick.
Sounds like something in which you’d like to participate? The FARE website explained that it’s quite simple to do. “Pick up some inexpensive toys, and place a teal pumpkin and/or a free printable sign from FARE outside your home to show that you have non-food treats to hand out. Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project is a simple gesture that can have a big impact," the website noted.
How is this actually impacting families in real life? Brittany Wilson Dye, an elementary school music teacher in Tennessee, has a son named Matthew who is allergic to a lot of different things, including soy, peanuts, tree nuts, green peas, lentils, wheat, egg, and sesame. Dye discovered her son’s food allergies in a terrifying way.
“We discovered Matthew’s food allergies when he was 12 months old. He had a serious anaphylactic reaction to green peas — I guess for whatever reason we had never given them to him any sooner. We rushed him to urgent care and they treated him, and we are very lucky that he was OK. It was very frightening, and we did not truly know or understand how severe it was until after the fact, and after learning more about food allergies and anaphylaxis. It is one of the reasons I am such an advocate for raising food allergy awareness, regardless of whether or not you or your child have them," Dye explains to Romper. "The rate of occurrence is continuing to rise, and knowing what to do in that situation can literally be the difference between life and death."
Soon after this scare, Dye and her family had skin testing done for Matthew, and through skin testing and their knowledge of his reactions to some other foods, they were able to “develop a clearer picture of what he is allergic to,” according to Dye. “A lot of people do not understand that skin or blood testing does not give a clear, definitive answer as to whether or not someone has a food allergy,” she says. Dye explains that there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle when it comes to food allergies, and even after working with the allergist, they’ve unfortunately still had two other anaphylactic reactions to lentils and sesame since finding out. “That’s why carrying those epinephrine auto-injectors is so crucial. We feel like we have a pretty clear picture four and a half years later (he is 5 now), but you just never know."
Understandably, Dye and her family are huge advocates of the Teal Pumpkin Project, and her son Matthew knows that “it’s for kids like him, and it makes him feel special and included [on Halloween],” Dye says. “We will be painting ours this weekend, and hosting a booth at our church’s fall festival. Last year, we helped about 30 families paint teal pumpkins and passed out non-food treats. We hope to do even more this year. When we are trick-or treating, we make a real point of going to doors with teal pumpkins. Last year, we even trick-or-treated in our neighborhood, and then I asked my friends on social media to let me know if they were participating, and we hopped in the car and drove around town to specifically visit these friends and say thank you.”
As far as the naysayers and negativity about this awesome inclusion project, Dye says she thinks it boils down to some misconceptions about how the program actually works. “First and foremost, regardless of circumstance, I am a huge advocate for inclusion. I think any effort to include and accommodate someone with a special need is an effort to be supported and commended. Period.”
Dye continues, “In the case of food allergies, I am often in awe of how strong my 5-year-old is. He lives his life everyday watching kids eat food/candy that he may very likely never be able to touch. One night every year, millions of kids go out trick-or-treating, and one in 13 of these kids has a food allergy. Why not work to do something special and inclusive for these incredible, strong kids?”
Dye makes two points about the misconceptions surrounding the Teal Pumpkin Project, one of which is explaining that it doesn’t mean you are exclusively offering non-food items at your door for Halloween. “It simply means you have purchased a non-food item in addition to the candy you purchased. I have seen people say that refuse to participate because they don’t want to not have candy. That’s simply not how the Teal Pumpkin Project works,” Dye says. Second, it’s not as expensive as you may think it is. “Estimate how many trick-or-treaters come to your door each year. Then, understand that, at most, one out of every 13 of those trick-or-treaters has a food allergy. If you had 130 trick-or-treaters, then probably only about 10 will have a food allergy. You could go to the dollar store and buy one package of glow sticks for $1 and you’d be set. I think a lot of people overestimate how many non-food treats they even need to have on hand,” Dye explains.
So what do you do for your kid with food allergies when there are no teal pumpkins around? You can do a “Switch Witch” activity, according to Dye. “If Matthew goes to a house without nonfood treats, we let him trick-or-treat like every other kid. We don’t stand there and ask to read labels, or tell him he can’t have certain foods. Rather, we get it all home and put him to bed, and tell him the Switch Witch is coming, and that anything that is not safe for him in his bag will be replaced by the Switch Witch with things he can have. The Teal Pumpkin Project is wonderful, and we will be participating for the fourth time this year, but know that as a parent you can also take steps to make Halloween exciting and ‘normal’ for your child… whether you see a teal pumpkin on a door step or not,” Dye adds.
So grab a pumpkin and some teal spray paint from your closest craft store, and stop by the Dollar Tree on the way home to grab some glow sticks or other little toys. You’ll be making a little kid really happy this Halloween by helping them feel included. Plus you get a pretty teal pumpkin. Happy Halloween.
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