When the Halloween army of pirates, “Twilight” vampires and Hannah Montanas spreads out across America, many will be delivering a unwitting eulogy to a Presbyterian minister who died last spring.
According to long-prevailing organizational lore, it was children in Pennsylvania who decided to use their Halloween rounds to raise money to help Unicef provide vaccinations, clean water, education and other essential help to youngsters overseas. The first collection in 1950, it is said, raised $17.
Actually, it was the parents of those children — a minister named Clyde Allison and his wife, Mary Emma Allison — who created Trick-or-Treat for Unicef, and the 1950 take was more like $100,000, according to their son, Monroe Allison. His parents wanted to support the underfinanced United Nations charity in its effort to combat child mortality but also shared a vision that Halloween was a chance to inspire children to help other children, not just rake in candy.
At the time, Mr. Allison had responsibility for the Presbyterian Church’s nationwide Sunday school curriculum for junior high school students. For three Halloweens, starting in 1947, he had arranged for youngsters to collect shoes, soap and overcoats for children in war-tattered Europe. After the group behind those drives ceased operations, Mrs. Allison came up with the idea of supporting Unicef after happening on a parade for the charity in Philadelphia. Unicef had only recently become a permanent United Nations agency responsible for raising its own financing.
Preparing for that first Halloween drive, Sunday school students decorated empty milk bottles using orange paper covering that Eleanor Roosevelt’s office authorized and wore orange armbands. The idea spread beyond Presbyterian churches, and Trick-or-Treat for Unicef entered America’s lexicon.
Over time, Unicef’s Halloween program has had to adjust as fears of crime and tainted candy led to more holiday parties and fewer children hitting the streets. The organization has found creative ways to build the program using the Internet. Milk containers gave way to orange boxes, which an estimated two million children will carry this year, hoping to raise $4 million.