In many Southern California neighborhoods, Halloween isn't what it used to be.
Parents, fearing poisoned treats and molestation, are keeping their children home. And neighborhoods once alive with costumed children and lighted pumpkins are dim and quiet.
Unfortunately for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, this has meant a tapering off in recent years of money to help sick and hungry children in the world's developing countries.
Halloween is also national UNICEF day and the focus of the organization's largest single fund-raising event, "Trick or Treat for UNICEF." Although the effort raises less money than the organization's holiday greeting card sales program, it involves more individual support, according to national UNICEF Day officer Jean Fraser. But as safety concerns have mounted, support for the 35-year-old program has declined.
Halloween this Thursday, however, may mark a resurgence for the fund-raising drive in which children with official cartons collect money for UNICEF as well as candy for themselves.
This year, the nonprofit U.S. Committee for UNICEF has given out about a million official collection cartons nationally, 10% more than last year, said Fraser. Candler Miller, Southern California director for the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, said the local office has also received more orders for the boxes and received them earlier than ever before. Miller attributes the turnaround to the catastrophic drought in Africa, which has inspired massive fund-raising efforts by big-name entertainers this year.
One of UNICEF's primary concerns, Miller said, has been the spread of disease, notably measles, at food distribution centers set up in Africa by relief organizations. Malnourished children are extremely vulnerable to the diseases to which they are exposed at the centers, which are often unsanitary, fly-infested and without clean water, she said.
Earmarked for Immunizations
Proceeds from the trick-or-treat program this year are earmarked for immunizing children in developing countries against the six "killer" diseases--measles, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, diphtheria and tuberculosis, Miller said. "For $5, a child can be immunized for life against those six diseases, which cause 5 million deaths a year and 5 million additional disabilities of young children," she said.
At its peak in 1970, the national Halloween drive raised $3.3 million.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization have set a goal of global immunization by 1990, Miller said.
Two recent events have given these fund-raisers reason to believe their goal is realistic, she said. This spring, both sides in El Salvador's civil war declared a cease-fire for three separate days so the children of the country could be immunized through a joint venture involving many government, military and civil organizations and private volunteer groups. As a result, 85% to 90% of the country's children were immunized, she said.
Also, in 1984, Colombia initiated a massive public awareness campaign that also resulted in 85% to 90% of that country's children being immunized, Miller said.
"In countries with communications and transportation realities like El Salvador and Colombia, to imagine immunizing that high a percentage of the population is remarkable," Miller said. "But it is an indication of what can be done if all sectors of society place a priority on it."
School systems have in the past provided the bulk of UNICEF's Halloween solicitors in the United States, but orders for collection cartons have come in this year from a variety of churches and community organizations, she said. In addition, cartons have been picked up by members of sororities and fraternities as well as individuals who said they went door to door for UNICEF when they were young and want their children to do the same, said Ann Miller, UNICEF chairman for the Orange County chapter of the United Nations Assn., which operates centers in Santa Ana and Irvine.
"This is the first year we've done it," said Robert Erickson, president of the Sigma Chi fraternity at UC Irvine. He said Sigma Chi and the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority obtained 75 cartons for Thursday evening, when they will go door to door in costume in Irvine soliciting for UNICEF.
"Obviously, fraternities have had a problem with not having a strong name in the community. The community doesn't believe we're there to do anything but party and destroy things. . . . We thought this would be a great way not only to raise money for UNICEF but to give us a better name in the community," Erickson said.