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Teal Pumpkin Project helps children with food allergies enjoy Halloween, too

Each day poses potentially life-threatening challenges for children living with food allergies, but holidays, especially Halloween, are particularly difficult. [Times files]

Each day poses potentially life-threatening challenges for children living with food allergies, but holidays, especially Halloween, are particularly difficult. [Times files]

Since their eldest son was only 2, Jeff Tate and his wife have spent their Halloweens becoming the Switch Witch.

When Jackson, now 8, would fall asleep, they'd swap out his trove of trick-or-treating candy for a new toy or book.

It's not that Jackson doesn't like the chocolate slathered peanut bars neighbors give him on the sweetest night of the year — it's that he's allergic.

"A Rubik's Cube is on the list this year," Jeff Tate said.

Each day poses potentially life-threatening challenges for children like Jackson living with food allergies, but holidays, especially Halloween, are particularly difficult.

That's why the Tates, who live in Lutz, were thrilled when the organization FARE, which stands for Food Allergy Research and Education, launched the Teal Pumpkin Project last year.

The idea is this: homeowners or businesses passing out candy can alert trick-or-treaters they're offering non-food items by painting a pumpkin teal, FARE's official color, and plopping it on their porch.

The organization based its campaign on a similar grassroots initiative in east Tennessee in 2013. This year, FARE built an interactive map that allows project participants to enter their address where children with food allergies can go for safe trick-or-treating.

"Kids with food allergies are just like other kids," said Veronica LaFemina, FARE vice president of communications. "They want to dress up and go trick-or-treating with their friends, but Halloween doesn't have that same festive feel because at the end of the night they know they'll have to trade away most of their treats."

FARE recommends giving trick-or-treaters non-food options, like plastic spider rings, bouncy balls or glow sticks. The organization said these toys not only benefit children with food allergies, but trick-or-treaters who can't have sugar for other health reasons, like diabetes or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

That sentiment has been echoed in a meme circulating on social media, reminding those celebrating Halloween to be open-minded.

Other groups around Tampa Bay are cautioning Halloween revelers against other safety and health hazards.

Law enforcement agencies are reminding parents to accompany their children while trick-or-treating and to avoid dark or isolated areas. Only visit homes with decorations or lights on, and check all food items before allowing children to eat them.

In addition, the BluePearl Veterinary Partners says pet safety shouldn't be forgotten on Halloween. Pet Poison Helpline calls during the week of Halloween are 12 percent higher than average, BluePearl said in a news release. Doctors there remind pet owners that chocolate and raisins can be toxic to dogs and cats.

They also recommend keeping glow sticks away from animals and locking them in a quiet room on Halloween night.

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

Teal Pumpkin Project helps children with food allergies enjoy Halloween, too 10/30/15 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2015 8:02am]
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