Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF Gives Kids the Power to Change the World

October 6, 2015

Thanks to a little orange box, kids truly believe they can make the world a better place.


Mountain View

Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF have raised $175 million since the movement began. The clatter of coins in the little orange box has turned out to be one catchy jingle.

The idea—Halloween could be about more than just collecting candy.

First, a nice idea. Then, a chance encounter. Together, the two evolved into Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, the "Original Kids Helping Kids" campaign that has empowered kids to save lives for 65 years. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF's longest-running campaign remains one of the most successful youth initiatives in American history.

Today, a $5-donation to UNICEF buys five days of food for a malnourished child; $100, measles protection for 100 kids; $400, a pump to give an entire village water. But in 1947, when Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF founders Pennsylvania minister Clyde Allison and his schoolteacher wife, Mary Emma, started the movement, a dime was all it took to buy 50 glasses of milk for Europe's hungry children.

Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF may look like a cowboy or king, but what Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF really want to be for Halloween is a kid who helps kids.

Whether cowboys, kings, witches or doctors, all UNICEF Trick-or-Treaters are kids who help kids.

How it all began

The idea: Halloween could be more than just a day for kids to overindulge on candy. In 1947 — less than a year after UNICEF's founding — the Reverend Clyde Allison, and his wife Mary Emma were handing out sweets to an endless parade of trick-or-treaters. The spectacle triggered conflicting emotions as it still does among parents today.

School groups, church groups and  fire departments came together to cover entire towns.

Mary turned to her husband and said, "It's too bad we can't turn this into something good."

"We can," Clyde replied.

The following year, the Allisons had their children trick-or-treating for clothing, soap and other goods for post-World War II relief efforts in Europe. But after the Halloween of 1949, the charity leading that effort disbanded. Suddenly, the Allisons had nowhere to direct their donations.

The encounter: One day, Mary Emma spotted a cow leading a parade of children down Philadelphia’s main shopping strip. The destination? A booth collecting donations to support UNICEF. Mary Emma knew a perfect fit when she saw one. 

The Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box, which this year features the Peanuts Gang, is an unchanging symbol of kid generosity

The Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box may change from year to year but one thing doesn't: Kids are always looking for a way to help others.

"UNICEF has caught the imagination of our people, especially our nation's children ..." — President Kennedy

It was an ah-ha moment with far-reaching effects. That next Halloween, the Allisons’ children and friends collected coins for UNICEF in hand-painted milk cartons.  Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF was born. 

The idea took off like a prairie wildfire. School and church groups, police and fire departments and other civic organizations got in on the act. By 1953, the campaign was so big that the United States Committee for UNICEF — what the U.S. Fund is today — took over. 

Soon “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” was an annual chorus heard in the U.S. and overseas as countries like Canada, France, Japan, Spain and the Philippines embraced the initiative, and partners like Key Club International and the entire Kiwanis family began supporting the campaign.

UNICEF won the 1965 Nobel Prize for programs like Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF that "proved compassion knows no national boundaries."

UNICEF won the 1965 Nobel Prize for programs like Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF that "proved compassion knows no national boundaries. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

"We are thrilled 'Peanuts' will inspire a new generation of kids to help kids.” —U.S. Fund for UNICEF President & CEO Caryl M. Stern

In 1960, President John F. Kennedy noted "UNICEF has captured the imagination of our people, especially our nation's children... ” Seven years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation that designated Halloween as National UNICEF Day.

UNICEF fast became part of American pop culture. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF promoters included Lassie, Kermit the Frog and Scooby Doo.

The little orange box

Throughout the decades, it seems everyone, from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager, has carried the little orange box. It's cropped up on TV classics like The Brady Bunch and Bewitched. This year, the classic box will join forces with another American favorite, Peanuts.

“We had the honor of working with Linus in 1952," says Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “This year, we are overjoyed that he’s enlisted Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of The Peanuts Movie characters to join him in support of UNICEF and the work they do to put children first.”

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF is also grateful for the support of our National Partners HSNi Cares, Claire’s and Key Club, and Promotional Supporter American Airlines for their support of the 2015 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign.

In 2015, limited edition boxes will feature the iconic gang – also heading to the big screen on November 6 in The Peanuts Movie.

If kids this Halloween work as hard as Kindergarten teacher Kathy Nygaard’s 5– and 6-year-old students did last year, a trip to see The Peanuts Movie will be a just reward. 

In her winning entry to the 2014 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF School Challenge, Ms. Nygaard, Olive Elementary School, Orange, Calif., wrote: “My kids have shown more generosity of spirit then many adults I know. On Halloween they went out with their orange UNICEF boxes and raised $113.54 to ‘send to the other children around the world.’ They are still talking about the kids who need medicine and food and water.”

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF lets kids help kids who need more than candy

Kids whose classrooms enter the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF School Challenge get valuable lessons in what it is to be a global citizen.

As Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF continues through its seventh decade, its reasons for being remain constant; make Halloween meaningful as well as fun, protect the lives of the world's youngest and most vulnerable, and inspire kids to discover their own ability to help other children like themselves.

Learn More