Scattered among the scarecrows and gourds in front of the Sorrells’ south Arden home is a bright turquoise pumpkin, an out-of-place item that pops out among the fall colors and catches the attention of passers-by.
To explain the odd detail, Kitty Sorrells has posted a turquoise sign declaring, “We are allergy friendly!” The sign and the pumpkin signal her participation in the Teal Pumpkin Project, a national effort by nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research and Education to get people to hand out allergy-safe candy alternatives such as glow sticks and bouncy balls this Halloween.
Sorrells’ daughter Caroline, 12, is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and cannot eat most of the candies she receives when she trick-or-treats with her friends, she said. Even candies that seem safe can be problematic if they’ve brushed against nutty candies or been handled by people who recently touched nuts. Caroline goes into life-threatening anaphylactic shock after the slightest interaction with nuts, Sorrells said. She carries an EpiPen everywhere she goes to stop the onset of any allergic reactions and is extremely careful about what she eats outside of her home.
“It’s sort of disappointing,” Caroline said of Halloween. “I like to go trick-or-treating but then I can’t eat the candy, so often I just have all this candy and I don’t know what to do with it.”
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The best houses, she said, give out stickers and toys – items she can take home and use like any other kid. About three dozen homes in the Sacramento area will participate in the teal pumpkin project by giving out non-candy treats this year, according to a map on the Food Allergy Research and Education website. Participating homes can either paint an orange pumpkin teal or buy an artificial teal pumpkin at Michaels and other retail stores.
One in 13 children in the United States has a food allergy, according to the organization, which started the pumpkin project three years ago. The group has been active in promoting allergy-related legislation, including a 2015 bill requiring EpiPens in California schools.
“Kids with food allergies, from a very early age, are taught not to accept food from anyone but their parent or caregiver because it might not be safe for them,” said the organization’s spokeswoman, Nancy Gregory. “The beauty of the teal pumpkin project is that it will provide them with treats that they won’t have to give away or swap at the end of the night.”
While the project was started by food allergy-affected families, it can also help children with other conditions, said Jen Stein, a Tahoe Park mother who painted a teal pumpkin this year and will give out bubbles for trick-or-treaters. Stein decided to participate in the project after finding out that a friend’s toddler had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“I don’t really like giving out sugar, anyway,” Stein said. “The idea is that people will come up and ask for it, and hopefully they will ask. Kids will love anything that they get.”
To find houses near you with teal pumpkins or for more information on the project, visit foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project.