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More churches, businesses offer alternatives to traditional Halloween gatherings

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Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Halloween used to be just one night a year, with Devil's Night and some good-natured mischief leading into trick-or-treating for loads of candy.

Now, churches hold special events that downplay many of the holiday's more frightening aspects. Special trick-or-treat events are held for children with peanut and other allergies. Malls, business districts and organizations host celebrations in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31 that provide many opportunities to don this year's costume.

In Franklin Park, Heritage Presbyterian Church held a Trunk ‘N Treat on Oct. 23.

“We view it as more of a community outreach where instead of walking from door to door, kids can walk from car to car,” said the Rev. Brian Janssen.

Enthusiasm for the holiday is reflected in shopping patterns. Consumer spending on Halloween has increased by nearly 55 percent since 2005, said the National Retail Federation, although a slight drop is projected this year.

Across the region, there is interest in Halloween-themed celebrations throughout the month.

In Penn Hills, the Free Methodist Church's Trunk or Treat celebrations have grown from 75 children the first year to 100 last year.

“This year we're planning on 150, but you just never know,” said Stefanie Mitchell, wife of the Rev. Bud Mitchell and the event's organizer.

Scary costumes, creepy decorations and haunted-house sounds weren't to be featured at the Oct. 19 event, which invited children to collect candy from car trunks.

“We were kind of just looking for a safe alternative to the traditional trick-or-treat,” Mitchell said.

And Jefferson Hills United Presbyterian Church was to hold its first Outreach Trunk or Treat on Oct. 19.

“It's kind of a trendy thing, I guess,” said the Rev. Jake Clawson, pastor. Members planned to decorate cars along Bible story or other themes.

Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park held its second Peanut-Free Trick-or-Treat Night on Oct. 19, geared for children with food allergies and other sensitivities to some traditional treats.

Not only were peanut- and gluten-free foods offered, but children had the opportunity to go door to door just as they would in their own neighborhoods.

“Because of the setup at the farm we have doors at the market and barn, and we have Tiny Town” with miniature houses, said Amy Soergel, one of the founders of Naturally Soergel's, a store on the property.

“Each miniature house has someone inside and we print the names of the treats they're giving out on the door so parents know, ‘OK, this is safe.'” This year's event was sold out, with 100 participants, Soergel said.

“We just want to be able to give (kids) a chance to participate on a night where a lot of times, they have to sit on the sideline,” said Cindy Cohen, a Soergel's sales associate.

Seth Beveridge, 11, of Connellsville, doesn't even get a chance to gather candy at Halloween. He suffers from eosinophilic esophagitis and has such severe allergies that he can only eat rice and potatoes. For the first time this year, he will be allowed to have candy at Halloween, but only Dum Dum lollipops.

Seth has taken his situation and used it to help raise money for research into his condition.

“We just call it ‘Seth's Halloween Fundraiser,'” said his mother Eileen. “He asks people to donate a dollar through Facebook, and this year we have a (collection) can at Hometown Diner in Connellsville.”

The money goes to The CURED Foundation, which puts 100 percent of donations toward EOE research.

Despite the interest, Halloween retail activity is down slightly nationwide. Total spending is projected at $6.9 billion this year, with the average consumer spending $75.03 this year compared to $79.82 last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Experian Marketing Services General Manager Bill Tancer said online searches for Halloween costumes declined by roughly 19 percent, “which in my experience is a good indicator of consumer interest. Retailers are buying less than in previous years.”

In the Pittsburgh region, Spirit stores have become a popular spot to buy Halloween merchandise. The seasonal stores that sell spooky costumes, home decor and other items, opened about 50 new locations nationwide this fall. Western Pennsylvania has about 14 Spirit stores

Angie Strong, 30, of Tarentum is managing a Spirit Halloween Superstore for the first time this season. She also is a manager at Spencer Gifts, the corporation that owns the Spirit pop-up chain.

“I like Halloween and dealing with the kids,” Strong said.

“I don't normally get kids at Spencer's. Seeing their reaction when they put on the costumes for the first time is great. Most of them want to wear the costume home.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or



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