Controlled Environments Don’t Build Community

trunk or treat

This fall, one of our Township Council members suggested a new-to-us event:  Trunk or Treat. It would be held during daytime hours on a weekend day just before Halloween. Children 10 and under who register ahead of time can participate.

Sounds nice, right? It did to me, too. For a while. Then I read an article in today’s paper and it got me thinking that maybe this isn’t the best idea after all.

The lede gets right up in your face about it:

Billed as a safer alternative than going door-to-door on Halloween, the township plans to host its first “Trunk or Treat” for younger children in the community. (emphasis mine)

If you’re a busy parent of young children, and especially if you work long hours outside the home, you’re going to be thrilled about the prospect of this event. Daytime trick-or-treat with no streets to cross! What’s not to like? You’re off the hook on Halloween itself, when you might be tired and the kids might be cranky after a long day at school or daycare.

If you’re the parent of older (middle-school to young adult) children, or an empty-nester, or someone without children, you might not like it so much at all.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade of the young parent, but Halloween is for everyone! Those of us who don’t have three-year-olds anymore still enjoy standing at the front door with a candy basket, handing out Hershey bars and Utz pretzels to little ones in cute costumes who sometimes forget to say “Trick or Treat!” but who are completely adorable nonetheless. Now, the Township is expecting to host 300 to 400 little kids whose parents may very well just decide not to take the kids out in the neighborhood on Halloween.

Another town councilman observed that this event brings together the community. I beg to differ. It Balkanizes the community, and frankly, we’ve got enough of that going on already. The public schools in this town, as in most towns, are no longer neighborhood schools with communities surrounding them. They’re K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and high school. Unless they have several children, parents rarely get to mix with people whose kids are of different ages than their own.

Most houses in this town have back decks rather than front porches. We’ve been here 15 years and there are neighbors within sight of our house whom we’ve never once met. That fault lies as much with us as it does with them, but Halloween is one of those times, especially when the weather is good, that brings people out into their front yards to chat with neighbors whose names they might not even know. It brings together the community.

In my household, Hubs takes the kids Trick-or-Treating while I stay home handing out the treats. He says that, by far, the best Halloween was in 2001. So soon after 9/11, not many people took their kids out on Halloween. The kids got a terrific reception at each house they visited, and their knock at the door brought smiles to the faces of the homeowners with their candy bowls. “We haven’t seen too many kids out this year,” they’d tell my husband, encouraging the kids to take a whole handful of treats.

This is a “community” in which kids as young as 8 find themselves scheduled for sports practices on Halloween. Every year, we see fewer trick-or-treaters.

And now we want to “build community” by controlling the environment. That’s a pretty narrow and exclusive community that’s being built.

I’m all about safety and I think that providing small children a way to trick-or-treat without having to remember to look both ways is a nice idea. But parents could hold the children’s hands or give them a ride in a wagon or stroller, so that the joy of the small child all decked out in a Halloween costume can be shared by everyone in the community–not just people with decorated cars and tickets to get in. All these efforts to protect a few people steal a lot of the fun away from everyone.

Think about it. And don’t rain on the whole community’s Halloween parade.

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5 thoughts on “Controlled Environments Don’t Build Community

  1. I think it’s a great idea if a church is doing it or a neighborhood decides to do it, but the whole town? Not such a good idea.

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  2. I like to see the neighbors out on halloween, too. We did go to a local mall when the kids were very little and I was still scared by the razor-blade horror stories of my youth.

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  3. The biggest problem with trunk or treat is that our state does not list registered sex offenders by car but by home and work address. Some random car in trunk or treat could really be dangerous.

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    • I never even thought of that–and I’ll bet the organizers didn’t either. All you have to do is prove residency in town to participate. I wonder if they will check the address against the offender list before issuing tickets?

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  4. Every year fewer and fewer kids trick-or-treat and fewer and fewer houses have lights on. As I’ve read in some places, 364 days of the year I tell my kids not to take candy from strangers; on day 365 I take them out soliciting candy from strangers? My parish does trunk or treat and it is a fun evening out; frankly, I wish they’d do it on Halloween so Trick or Treat wasn’t an issue.

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