Thank you, Mary Emma Allison

October 28, 2010
The U.S. Fund for UNICEF mourns the passing of Mary Emma Allison, co-founder of "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF." Mrs. Allison, 93, died yesterday in the comfort of her home, surrounded by her beloved family.

Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, has posted this message on the occasion of the death of Mary Emma Allison, co-founder of "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF."

Please leave your messages of condolence and remembrances for the Allison family via the comments section below. If you wish to make a donation to a memorial fund, click here.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF mourns the passing of Mary Emma Allison, co-founder of "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF." Mrs. Allison, 93, died yesterday in the comfort of her home, surrounded by her beloved family.

In 1947, at the end of a busy Halloween night spent handing out candy to children, Mrs. Allison made a simple, but significant, observation to her husband, Reverend Clyde Allison: "It's too bad we can't turn this into something good." Reverend Allison agreed, and the two of them got to work developing an idea that would eventually become Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.

 

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Mary Emma Allison with her children.

Little did Mrs. Allison know at the time just how much "good" her wish would create. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, now celebrating its 60th year, has inspired generations of children across America, and has helped UNICEF save millions of children's lives around the globe.

Back in 1947, Reverend Allison edited national youth educational materials for the Presbyterian Church, and he was able to widely promote the idea of children helping other children. He encouraged them to collect physical goods to send to children in war-torn Europe (soap, overcoats, and shoes) in partnership with Church World Service. By 1950, such items were no longer in demand, and war relief organizations were disbanding.

But the Allisons knew there were many impoverished regions of the world where children did desperately need help, and they were loath to give up on the powerful notion of children helping other children. Mrs. Allison assured her husband she would find a way to continue the program -- she was determined to make it happen.

In late 1949, Mrs. Allison took her three young children to buy winter coats at Wannamaker's store in Philadelphia. They came upon a parade of children and followed it to its destination: a booth collecting donations to help UNICEF purchase powdered milk for children in postwar Japan. Ms. Gertrude Ely, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt who had organized the event, discussed UNICEF's work with Mrs. Allison. Afterwards, Mrs. Allison rushed home to share the good news with her husband: she had found the perfect beneficiary for their campaign.

In anticipation of Halloween, 1950, Mrs. Allison wrote a passionate appeal, published nationally in the Presbyterian youth curriculum, asking children to collect spare change for UNICEF. And so Trick-Treat-for UNICEF was born. Through the years, many famous faces have championed Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF -- from Presidents and First Ladies to celebrities; rock stars to cartoon characters. The program is still driven by grassroots enthusiasm, with teachers, volunteers, and especially children behind its ongoing success. Of course modern technology now plays its role, and it's unlikely Mrs. Allison could have anticipated the current iPhone application.

No matter the modernizations, one aspect of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF remains constant: the extraordinary empowerment and pride a child experiences when she counts up the pennies in her collection box and realizes that she's raised enough money to provide a child with drinking water for more than a month, or purchase a vaccine for a peer half a world away. To date, more than $160 million has been raised for children in need through Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.

Reverend Clyde and Mrs. Allison dedicated themselves to their close-knit family and to serving their community with humility and compassion. Mrs. Allison leaves a legacy born of her kindness and her fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of all children.

What began as a simple wish to turn Halloween into something "good" resulted in the nation's longest-running youth service program. Because of the Allisons, untold numbers of children's lives have been saved and improved over the last 60 years. And generations of American children have been inspired to follow their hearts and supplement their Halloween candy collection with something much more important.

Our debt is enormous, and we remember Mrs. Allison with abiding respect, gratitude, and love. Undoubtedly, the millions of children we serve would say the same, if given the opportunity.

The Allison family warmly welcomes personal stories and memories of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF from former and current "Trick-or-Treaters," and all friends of UNICEF. Please share them, with your condolences, below.