Business & Real Estate

Program buys back Halloween candy from kids, sends it to soldiers

Attention, kids: There may be an extra treat in your Halloween candy bag. And it’s no trick.

As part of a nationwide “Halloween Candy Buyback” program that’s been around a decade, about 25 local dentists are offering $1 a pound – or toys – to children willing to trade in their trick-or-treat candy.

At Kids Care Dental Group in Greenhaven, a handful of kids – seemingly willingly – trotted in Friday with their Halloween loot, mostly mini-chocolate bars. For every pound of sweets dumped into a jack-o-lantern bucket and weighed on an office scale, they got up to $5 in cash.

Among them: 4-year-old Cliffy Storey and his sister, Audrey, 7, who brought in 5pounds of candy.

“We see a lot of cavities in younger kids, so we want to encourage them to not eat all this candy,” said Amanda Hurst, the dental group’s executive assistant about the buyback program. “This is a way to turn their candy into a toy or something else.”

Last year, Kids Care Dental, which has seven pediatric offices, hauled in 1,800 pounds of donated candy. Late Friday, it hadn’t yet totaled up this year’s one-day tally but expects it will be similar. Kids Care’s program was held Friday only, but other dentists’ programs are still active.

Dentists who collect the Halloween candy ship it themselves to Operation Gratitude, a Southern California nonprofit started after 9/11 to support U.S. soldiers overseas.

“The candy gives anyone an opportunity to feel they’ve done something good,” said Rich Hernandez, director of Operation Gratitude, which is based at a California Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys.

Hernandez said the donated candy is used as filler “for all the nooks and crannies” in thousands of care packages it mails overseas to soldiers in Afghanistan, Africa, Kuwait, South Korea, as well as on battleships floating in the Middle East gulf region.

On weekends through Dec. 7, Hernandez said teams of volunteers will pack up to 100,000 holiday care packages for solidiers, each containing socks, toiletries, thank-you letters, a Beanie Baby toy and candy. Another mass mailing of care packages goes out in July.

Some dentists say parents jump at the chance to get Halloween candy out of the house. In Rocklin, “We’ve had a really good turnout. The kids seem really excited,” said Jennifer Nguyen, a manager at Sun-Park Dental office. She said about 11 kids, ranging in age from 3 to 13, stopped in Friday, hauling their Halloween loot – everything from Pixy Stix to Kit Kat bars.

Sun-Park, whose candy-buyback program ends Monday, offers a choice of toys or cash, usually $1 a pound. The office also asks that each child bring a thank-you letter to a soldier “for keeping our country safe and secure.”

For dental groups like Kids Care, which has been buying Halloween candy for four years, it’s rewarding in other ways. “Every year, we get kids who don’t want to take the money. They say “Give it to the troops,’” said Kids Care Dental administrator Jane Anderson. She said they doled out about $1,600 last year to kids, plus the additional cost of shipping the donated sweets to Operation Gratitude.

“We’re particularly excited that a solider will be getting the candy,” said Jennifer Johnson, mother of the Storey children, who said she was matching her kids’ $2 cash gifts from their dentist.

As to whether it’s any better for soliders than kids to be chowing down on sugary sweets, the Halloween buyback website offers this reply: “Halloween candy represents a warm memory of life ‘back home.’ ... Those troops are risking their lives every day. If a little piece of candy can provide a moment of happiness, why not?”

To search for participating dentists by ZIP code, go to: www.halloweencandybuyback.com. To send candy, letters or other donations to Operation Gratitude, go to: www.operationgratitude.com or call (262)674-7281.

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