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 one of Philadelphia’s main downtown streets. The destination? A booth collecting donations to support UNICEF. Mary Emma knew a perfect fit when she saw one.
"UNICEF has caught the imagination of our people, especially our nation's children ..." — President Kennedy
It was an aha 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.
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
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.
“For generations of Americans, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has offered the first opportunity to support a global cause.” — U.S. Fund for UNICEF President & CEO Caryl M. Stern
UNICEF fast became part of American pop culture. Past Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF promoters have included Lassie, Kermit the Frog, Scooby Doo and the characters from Peanuts.
The little orange box
Throughout the decades, it seems everyone, from former 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. Last year, the classic Trick-or-Treat box joined forces with another American favorite, Peanuts.
“Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is one of the longest-running youth initiatives in the country. For the generations of Americans who have participated, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF marked their first opportunity to support a global cause, give back and feel empowered to make a difference,” said Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO of UNICEF USA.
Stern added, “This fall, we’re inviting teachers to inspire the next generation of global citizens by teaching their students the fundamental value of helping others.”
UNICEF USA is also grateful for the support of our National Partners HSNi Cares and Key Club, Content Partners Scholastic and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Promotional Supporter Screenvision Media for their support of the 2017 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign.
“Since I saw many kids donate to UNICEF, I have proof that kids can change the world.” — Georgia, a student from Minneapolis
Students and teachers who have participated in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF School Program offer ample testimony that Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF continues to encourage kids to help other kids in need.
Dr. Gulshan Harjee, a teacher in the Atlanta area, explained: “I was a beneficiary of the UNICEF vaccine program while growing up in Tanzania, so it was first nature to give something back when I had a chance. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF gives our kids the message that everyone has the opportunity to help others.”
“I often ask myself if kids can really change the world or if it’s just the kids in books and movies,” said Georgia, a student at a school in Minneapolis. "Now my answer is yes. Since I saw many kids donate to UNICEF, I have proof that kids can change the world.”
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.