As COVID-19 cases start growing again heading into the fall, it is directly disrupting a popular family event: Halloween. Families across Sammamish are now reading safety guidelines, planning socially-distant activities and wearing masks, turning Halloween into something that looks drastically different this year.
Many Sammamish residents had to alter or cancel their trick-or-treat plans. To get the pulse of the community, the Sammamish Independent polled the Sammamish, WA Facebook group. Out of 239 residents who shared their plans for Halloween, 47% of them said they “will decorate the house and do some kind of family activity,” while 31% “will not do anything this year.”
Only 9% of respondents said they “will keep things as usual (go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, hand out candy).”
To keep people engaged and to provide an opportunity to reunite neighbors who have been separated for months, Liz Faaland, 45, and her husband Nikolai, 41, decided to build a special chute outside of their house for anyone who would like to stop by and participate.
“We are sad about kids for missing the opportunities, so we just want to have something fun for the kids while keeping social distance,” Nikolai said.
The Faalands started prepping and honing their idea at the beginning of September and continued to iterate every weekend. Their goal was to create a safe and fun experience for trick-or-treaters. The family has chosen to use LED lights to outline a path that leads visitors to the candy chute.
“We’ve had a 2D eyeball for 10 years. It follows people around at night, which is very interesting so it is becoming a popular place to visit,” Nikolai said.
“We have about 300 tricksters in a good weather year,” Liz added.
Trick-or-treaters are greeted by two mannequins that they borrowed from a neighbor. Under cover of gauze, the mannequins look like ghosts, which adds to the festive ambiance. They will also be decorated with items that will be lit under a black light.
After the ghosts is the large, flat eyeball that is going to be projected onto the garage door. Liz describes it as having “different rotations…we can change the mode to scary or not scary.”
At the end of the line of ghoulish features is a candy chute that the family created especially for this Halloween. This delivery mechanism allows kids to grab candy with no contact. The family also decorated it by coloring the candy shoot with orange stripes. Only one family member will be outside, opening fresh bags of candy and shooting them down for kids. Liz said her chute will open at 5:30 p.m. on October 31.
“We are glad that we are still able to do something together. It’s important to build something that makes people feel we are still together,” Nikolai said.
Piya Nagpal, 47, who lives in the Chambord neighborhood, said she is collaborating with her neighbors to create a safe, outdoor Halloween for their kids.
“We didn’t want to trick or treat this year,” Nagpal said. “So we decided to get together and have a small gathering outdoors. We want to restrict the numbers because larger gatherings can be very dangerous at this time.”
Since dipping your hand into different bowls of candy is not a good idea during COVID-19, Nagpal decided to put candy into separate gift bags, so that all kids can enjoy eating candy with minimal contact.
The kids will still get a chance to wear their Halloween costume so that they can have a costume parade, and participate in several small activities, including a cookie-decorating event.
To add a bit of fun, Nagpal and other organizers will have an outdoor projector to play Halloween movies on a garage door.
“If the weather is good then we will pick one [movie], probably an age-appropriate Halloween themed one,” Nagpal said, “Kids can sit outside…they will also have some pizza. Reason we have done this is to make sure there is no trick-or-treating but kids can still can have a good time.”
Neighborhoods like Nagpal’s are doing the best they can to keep their children engaged, especially since many traditional group events have been cancelled, including the Nightmare at Beaver Lake. Usually organized by the Rotary Club of Sammamish, the outdoor haunted house had attracted thousands of visitors each year, with proceeds going to nonprofits such as Eastside Friends of Seniors, Hopelink and Argos Guatemala. But due to the pandemic, they were forced to suspend the event this year.
“We are planning several smaller fundraisers, COVID compliant, to help continue our work to help in the areas of food insecurity, mental health and homelessness,” Lisa Kennedy, Rotary’s Development Director, said.
At the same time, the organization still kept its Nightmare $1,000 scholarship to recognize high school volunteers who have demonstrated energy and enthusiasm for the event when it was being planned. This year, the scholarship is dedicated to Mark Mullins, a long-time adult Nightmare volunteer, who passed away earlier this year. Mullins’ estate donated $1,000 to the Sammamish Rotary Foundation to support Nightmare at Beaver Lake. The donation is now being used to fund a scholarship for a deserving Nightmare volunteer.
“Mark obviously enjoyed the infectious Nightmare energy and showed it. He was a wonderful Nightmare Dad and will be missed,” Rhodes wrote in the email that was sent to all volunteers.
Through smaller-scale fundraising, Sammamish Rotary is also responding to the impact of COVID-19 with grants to local and international nonprofits supporting those in need in the areas of food, water, hygiene, medicine, homelessness, job creation and mental health. So far, the organization has donated approximately $50,000.
“In these divided times, it’s nice to hang out with a group of people who all care about scholarships or feeding the hungry, regardless of their political affiliation,” Rhodes said, reflecting on the country’s current political mood before elections. “Where else are you going to find a group of crazy people happily hanging out in the rain to work on a project together to help the community?”
Correction: This article previously stated that many Sammamish residents voluntarily donated $1,000 to support a scholarship through the Rotary Club. The donation actually came from Mark Mullins’ estate, so we have made the change in the article.