Sixty years ago on Halloween, a movement was born that would empower millions of American children to help save the lives of their peers around the world. Now, as kids all over the country get ready to transform into vampires, superheroes, and princesses, this special American tradition continues -- and remains a critical front in the fight for child survival.
It began very simply, when one family decided to make the experience of trick-or-treating more meaningful. The Reverend Clyde Allison and his wife Mary Emma of Pennsylvania believed that children going door-to-door on Halloween night could gain something far more important than candy -- and could help other, less fortunate children in the process. Reverend Allison first proposed the idea of alternative trick-or-treating activities in a nationally distributed publication he edited for the Presbyterian Church. One of those activities involved asking for donations of shoes and soap for post-war relief efforts in Europe. Later, in 1949, Reverend Allison's wife, Mary Emma, thought of a new beneficiary: UNICEF.
The Allison children, friends, and fellow congregation members were among those who went knocking on doors on Oct. 31, 1950, toting decorated milk cartons and asking for donations to UNICEF to aid children suffering in the wake of World War II. The idea was a huge hit, and in subsequent years, it spread beyond the Presbyterian Church and into communities throughout the country.
Over the last six decades, generations of trick-or-treaters from all over America have helped raise nearly $160 million -- funds that have enabled UNICEF to provide lifesaving immunizations, improved nutrition, medicines, protection, and education for millions of vulnerable children around the world. As the first "kids helping kids" program in the United States, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF was also an introduction to philanthropy for many young Americans.
A lot has changed since 1950 -- The milk cartons have been replaced with the now iconic orange boxes, for example. But the spirit of service and global citizenship remains the same. When a child hears coins rattling inside that orange box, he or she can feel instantly proud that a little girl or little boy somewhere in the world is going to get help they desperately need. The lesson: your actions matter and can have an impact -- no matter how old you are or where you live. Through Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, children are emboldened to believe in themselves and to learn more about the world around them. I trick-or-treated for UNICEF as a child, and it helped shape my view of the world and my commitment to helping others. And now, my kids won't leave the house on Halloween night without their orange boxes.
The program has evolved significantly in recent years and also owes its success to the generosity of many partner organizations and corporations, including this year's new National Sponsor Toys"R"Us, Inc. I'm excited to report that the company is conducting the first-ever Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF customer fundraising campaign in Toys"R"Us® and Babies"R"Us® stores nationwide as well as online, a milestone for the organization. Stores are also official destinations where kids and families can pick up the iconic orange collection boxes this year.
The tangible results of trick-or-treaters' efforts and those of partners and donors are immense and undeniable -- especially when you consider the extremely low cost of some of the interventions they have funded. Vaccinating a child against measles, for instance, costs less than a dollar. Think about this -- for the cost of a candy bar, you can save a child from a deadly disease. Trick-or-treaters and those who have supported the program have also contributed to some remarkable humanitarian success stories over the years, including the significant global reduction in child mortality. The number of children under age five dying every year from preventable causes has been cut by more than half since 1960. This is the result of the efforts of many different committed parties, and the participants and supporters of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF count among them.
One concern I have in honoring the 60th anniversary of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is that some people might get the impression that we have finished our task -- that the work is done. But this is not the case. While millions of lives have been saved, millions of children are still dying every year -- even though the medicines, immunizations, and technologies that could save them readily exist.
These avoidable deaths occur unheard and unseen by many of those with the power to stop them. That's why Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is so crucial. Anything that calls attention to this silent crisis -- and anything that helps more of the world's most vulnerable children survive -- is something we should all support.
The kids who carry those little orange boxes on Halloween night understand this. The companies and organizations that partner with us understand it, too. So this Halloween, as we celebrate 60 years of success -- let's make sure that, quarter by quarter, dollar by dollar, that success continues. The children of the world depend on it.
Follow Caryl M. Stern on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CarylStern