Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF Step Up to Provide Emergency Relief | UNICEF USA

Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF Step Up to Provide Emergency Relief

October 2, 2017

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


Mountain View

Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF has introduced generations of children to the power of social activism.

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

It all started with a good idea and a chance encounter. Since its launch in 1950 to help refugee children in postwar Europe, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has raised nearly $177 million and showed generations of kids how they can help make a difference. This year, as multiple disasters threaten children's lives, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF donations will support UNICEF's emergency relief work for the world's most vulnerable children. 

Today, a $1 donation to UNICEF can buy enough pencils for a class of 30 students. $8 can buy a UNICEF kit to give a family clean water to drink. $15 can buy for a box of five mosquito nets to protect kids from deadly malaria. $55 can buy a carton of therapeutic food (150 packets) to save a child from severe acute malnutrition. $210 can buy a UNICEF School-in-a-Box containing supplies to help 40 refugee children get back to learning and being kids. 

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 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. 

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 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

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

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.

"For over 60 years, young people have helped other kids by trick-or-treating for UNICEF. It's an American tradition." Learn more about Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF's history in this video.

“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.”

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.

Get involved!