“TRICK-OR-TREAT!” — Children could be heard shouting all over the civic center parking lot during Trunk or Treat Wednesday evening as they gathered up candy passed out by “trunk sponsors.” Trunk sponsors, along with gold and silver sponsors, came together to support Ozarks Medical Center Riverways Hospice with their financial contributions, and the presence of the trunk sponsors drew the crowd that paid admission in canned goods to benefit Elks Lodge No. 2418’s “Christmas for Kids” program. Collecting candy from one of the trunk sponsors here, from left: Andrew Howard, 11, son of Shantina and William Grace of Peace Valley; Patricia Schrippe, West Plains, with her children Theo, 3, Amira, 5, and Mabel, 7; and Nene Campsey, 8, daughter of Quill staff writer Abby Hess, West Plains.

There’s a reason for the price of admission to the Trunk or Treat Halloween celebration that draws more than 1,000 kids each year to the civic center, say the event’s organizers.

From 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23, children from toddlerhood to age 11 are invited to trick or treat from car trunks in the parking lot of the West Plains Civic Center. The cost to participate is one unexpired canned or nonperishable food item per person — children and accompanying adults — or $1.

The event is known for family-friendly entertainment and fun and creatively decorated vehicle trunks where children collect their candy, and this year, Sandy Jones and RoxAnn Wurst hope to revive the spirit of giving that inspired the first Trunk or Treat. Jones and Wurst are part of the organizing committee behind the annual Halloween event.

Some may have forgotten and others may never have known the underlying purpose of the annual Halloween event: to collect canned and nonperishable food items to feed as many hospice families as possible during the Christmas season.

Donated food items from the event used for holiday baskets tailored to the needs of individual hospice families, to help them get through the holidays while caring for a family member with a terminal condition. A quilt or blanket is also included in the care package.

Last year, Jones lamented, hundreds of cans were thrown out because they were dented, had no labels or were out of date. She implores those attending this year to make sure the food given is not expired, and the packaging labeled and not damaged.

Cash donations are also welcome, the organizers said, and can go toward covering expenses hospice doesn’t usually pay for, like a babysitter and a night at the movies for a younger child, a takeout meal when caregivers have been pressed for the time and energy to prepare food, new bedsheets, nutritional supplements like enriched milkshakes or even a particular treat the patient has been craving.

Terminal illnesses can strike individuals of any age, and not only affect the patient but their family members and other caregivers, organizers reminded.

The seed for the event was planted 40 years ago when women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, made lap blankets for Riverways Hospice patients. The blankets were intended to show comfort for those in need.

In the following years church youth joined in the effort by decorating empty boxes with wrapping paper. Those boxes were then used to deliver blankets and food collected by the hospice.  

In a tradition that continues today, each Wednesday after Thanksgiving, volunteers gather at the First Presbyterian Church on Aid Avenue to wrap boxes, then form the “Hospice Line of Love” from the church to Riverways Hospice, where they will be filled.  

As the years went on, more volunteers signed up to help. Members of Cub Scout Pack 121 decided to collect canned goods as “admission” at a planned Trunk or Treat event as a service project, giving rise to the Trunk or Treat event as it’s now known.

In its first year, Trunk or Treat drew about 200 children. That number has grown to about 1,500, said Jones, and has expanded to include families served by the Elks Club Christmas for Kids program.

This year, about 70 vendors are expected to provide “trunks” where trick-or-treaters from toddlerhood through age 11 can collect donated candy. The organizers ask participants to respect age limits on collecting candy, as the treats are not appropriate for infants and are meant for younger children to enjoy, not parents or teens.

Dancers with Children’s Ballet of the Ozarks and West Plains Center for the Arts will perform, and volunteers with the West Plains Fire Department will help keep the event secure. A no-mask rule will be enforced for the safety of eventgoers.  

New this year will be an appearance by Santa Claus, located at the end of the Trunk or Treat line, as a reminder of the upcoming season of giving and to speak with children about their holiday wishes.

For more information about the event or to reserve a spot for a trunk, call Jones at 274-0652 or Wurst at 293-8500.   


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