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Halloween Trunk-or-Treat: A Safe Way to Celebrate

Marcy writes about American life, holidays, politics and other topics. She has written hundreds of articles for online & print publications.

Organize a Trunk-or-Treat for Your Church or Neighborhood

Trunk-or-Treat parties are fun for everyone!

Trunk-or-Treat parties are fun for everyone!

Tailgate Party for Halloween

It's not to early to start planning a fun Halloween event. Every parent worries about child safety during Halloween; it can be dangerous to knock on the doors of strangers.

In recent years, many churches and communities organize Halloween "Trunk or Treat" events to offer a safe way for kids to enjoy the fun, and a good time for adults, too.

It's easy to hold a Trunk-or-Treat event; all you need are some interested friends and neighbors (who bring their own candy and give-away treats), a bunch of kids dressed in their favorite costumes, and an empty parking lot (which is why it's a favorite of church groups, or at apartment buildings).

In many communities, Trunk-or-Treat events have grown to include hundreds of participants, all of whom spend an entire year waiting for the next Halloween to roll around.

Read on for tips on how you can do this in your own neighborhood.

Why People Love Trunk-or-Treat

What do you think?

How to Hold a Trunk-or-Treat

Here are step-by-step tips for planning a Trunk-or-Treat evening:

  • Location: First, locate a good place to hold the event. Church parking lots are great spots (plenty of parking, and generally not used for drive-through short-cuts). Other ideas are neighborhood-friendly shopping centers (they will often block off a space for you, and they'll likely welcome those who might shop before or after the candy is passed out), parking lots at neighborhood recreation spots, apartment complexes and businesses that are closed after 5 p.m.
  • Pick a Date: Ideally, you can hold the event on Halloween, but this isn't always possible. Many churches schedule it for a weekend evening just prior to Halloween, when there's no school the next day. Start working on the date well in advance, so you can schedule the parking lot and also to spread the word to the little goblins and their parents.
  • Plan What You'll Need: If you're going to include food (see below), make certain you get plenty of paper goods to go around. If there will be an indoor area that needs decorations, recruit some help to string lights or set out Jack-o-Lanterns.
  • Spread the Word: Use your neighborhood newsletter, church bulletin, homeowners' website or other vehicles to let people know you'll be holding the event. People will need to know in advance so they can plan to attend on that date, and so they can prepare for any 'extra' attractions you might plan.
  • Set the Ground Rules: There aren't really too many rules, but it's a good idea to share a few instructions with those who might come. You'll need to tell them where to park, and how to park. All cars should face away from the area where kids will go from trunk to trunk, to avoid the risk of stepping in front of a car that's moving. Tell families when to arrive, and let them know they can decorate their trunks or the cargo area of their vans and SUVs.
  • Decorations: Adults have a great time decorating the back of their vehicles for these events. It's certainly not required (and everyone is welcome, with or without decorations!), but it adds to the fun. If you drop by a parking lot of 'experienced' Trunk-or-Treat goers, you'll see battery-operated lights strung across open hatches, lighted pumpkins, moving gizmos and you'll even hear sound effects!
  • Food: Fall weather is perfect for chili cook-offs and other culinary contests, and many church groups combine Trunk-or-Treat with a competition or two. This allows adults who don't have small children to join in the fun. And there's plenty to eat for everyone after the kids go from car to car. If you're at a church or recreation building, you should be able to reserve a place inside for the cook-off entries. In addition to chili, you can have pies, and ice-cream social, cookies or other treats.
  • Costume Parade: The kids will enjoy having a costume parade. Have an adult plan a safe path through the outdoor area (or the parade can be indoors, after the candy is distributed). You can have prizes or not; the main idea is to have fun.
  • Other Contests: Some groups like to offer prizes for the best decorated car, scariest car, best special effects, etc. Again, this isn't required, and it's all voluntary.
  • Music: Depending on where you hold the event, you may want to pipe outdoor music while the kids are gathering their treats, or include music (or haunted house noises) indoors afterward. Maybe you know a live band in your neighborhood that will show up for a set or two?
  • Haunted House: If you have the funds, volunteers and enough time (as well as access to the building), you may want to add a haunted house as an indoor attraction. This can make the event more elaborate and time-consuming than your group might wish, but it's something to consider.
  • Clean-up: Generally, a group of people that already knows each other will pitch in to help clean up after this type of event. But just to be sure, ask a few people to help gather trash and take it out to the dumpster, and to tour the parking lot looking for candy wrappers after the fun ends. This is especially important if you're the guests of a business or recreation facility for the evening.
  • Bring a Camera! You'll be sorry if you don't - especially if your group gets into the spirit of things!

Get the Whole Family Involved for Halloween

Even Fido can join in the fun at a Trunk-or-Treat Party!

Even Fido can join in the fun at a Trunk-or-Treat Party!

Tips for a Successful Trunk-or-Treat

Be sure to have a few responsible adults to watch over the grounds where the cars are parked. This will help avoid the risk of someone driving through the area where children are collecting candy.

If there are cars not participating in the candy giveaway, have them park in another area. If possible, ask them to use separate entrances and exits to avoid traffic problems.

Assign volunteers to work in shifts rather than to be 'on duty' all night. Nobody likes to be the only one working while everyone else is having fun. And eating chili!

Have an "MC" selected to help announce the time of the parade, to remind people it's time to go inside, and to tell everyone the evening is over.

Use the theater trick of dimming the house lights to get people's attention when it's time to leave!

Have fun! These events become longtime traditions, and you'll think of new ideas every year!


Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 21, 2014:

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We love Trunk or Treating. Our church does a great job with this event every year. I enjoyed visiting here.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on October 27, 2012:

Hi, Suzette! These are very popular Halloween events in my church - and many other groups hold them, too. I know some malls have Halloween events as alternatives to going door-to-door, but of course they anticipate getting sales from the traffic. This is just a good and decent gathering for the church group or neighborhood. And being outside is half the fun - the air gets that 'crisp' feeling that adds to the excitement!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 27, 2012:

What a great idea for a Halloween celebration. It does involve the whole family which is the point. Very clever and the dog dressed up as a hot dog is a hoot! You can be in control of what candy your child receives and from whom. Again, great idea!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on October 04, 2012:

Hi, Crystal - it saddens me, too. Many church groups hold Trunk-or-Treat on alternate dates rather than Halloween, so kids can still do the traditional door-to-door thing. But as you point out, it's just not the same, is it?

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 03, 2012:

Trunk-or-treat events are a great alternative to traditional trick-or-treating. But it saddens me that kids today can't safely enjoy a tradition that is a cherished childhood memory for me. You did a wonderful job with this hub. Voted up.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on October 02, 2012:

Hi, Mom Kat - it makes me sad, too - there was a sense of community to 'The WayThings Used To Be' back then. I do think the organized outdoor gatherings bring back some of that excitement. They're supervised, but still allow a sense of community and, for me, at least, that crisp Fall feeling in the air adds to the energy.

As with you,my doorstep candy distribution is way down, too - by the end of the evening, I'm doling out huge handfuls just to get rid of it!

Kat from USA on October 02, 2012:

Well our town doesn't call it "trunk or treating" but there has been a serious drop in trick-or-treating over the past few years. Where I used to need over 10lb. of candy for door knockers, not 1 small bag is enough. Everyone goes to the Holiday Parties held in either the local churches or at the public school ~ indoors, great lighting, supervision at the door ~ much safer and warmer alternative.

It makes me sad in a way because it's like the end of an era or something. Great Hub!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 28, 2012:

Hi, Michael - as with you, I am sad that we lost our collective innocence regarding Halloween. It was such a safe and fun event when I was a kid. I appreciate your comments here - thanks!

Michael J Rapp from United States on September 28, 2012:

This is a great idea! Such a bummer though that people need to be so cautious. Better safe than sorry, and this looks like it could be a ton of fun anyway.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 27, 2012:

You are so right, Aviannovice - when I was a kid, we could safely go throughout entire neighborhoods; everyone knew us, and we knew all the families in the area. So sad that things have changed. I love the way Trunk-or-Treat has brought back the sense of community fun, though!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on September 27, 2012:

It's good to have these things now, in view of the strange things that happened in the past. When we were kids, everything was safe...

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 27, 2012:

@GiblinGirl - Oh, I so much hope you try this idea! It is a ton of fun, and as you said, it's safe. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your feedback.

@homesteadbound - Isn't this a great tradition to start? Our church does it every year, and even adults with grown kids look forward to it.

@fpherj - Thanks for commenting! So glad you like the idea - let me know if your family starts this tradition!

@TahoeDoc - Thanks for sharing your personal experience with Trunk-or-Treat events! I know of some amazing stories about the car decorations. Fun stuff, huh!

TahoeDoc from Lake Tahoe, California on September 27, 2012:

My kids' preschool used to do this every year. This was a blast- so much fun to decorate the back of the SUV and see how creative other people got with their vehicles. It was great for smaller kids because it was not as much walking and they knew all the other participants.

Great idea for a hub and I hope that helps this safe, easy and fun halloween activity become more prominent!

Suzie from Carson City on September 27, 2012:

Marcy...How unique. Great Idea......I will share with my Daughters-in-law for their little ghosts and goblins!!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 27, 2012:

This really is a great idea. It would almost feel like a carnival. I have not heard of this before, but I like it!

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on September 27, 2012:

Really cool idea. I've never heard of a trunk or treat but it really sounds like it's a safe way to have fun.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 27, 2012:

Melovy - maybe you should start one of these in your community - they're tremendous fun. Halloween is now as major holiday for all ages on our side of the pond! Thanks for commenting!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 27, 2012:

Thanks, Alocsin - these are easy events to plan if you keep things simple the first year. Hope you start one in your area!

Yvonne Spence from UK on September 27, 2012:

I am like Nettlemere and have never heard of this before! This definitely has not crossed the pond. It sounds like an interesting idea, and I can see that it could be a good social event for adults too. Very interesting!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on September 26, 2012:

What a great idea and it's not too late to implement this for the upcoming holiday. Voting this Up and Useful.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:

Hi, Summerberrie - I hope you have a chance to try this idea sometime soon - it's a big hit, with 'kids' of all ages! Thanks for reading and commenting!

summerberrie on September 26, 2012:

This does look like so much fun. It is time to start planning. Thanks for the great ideas.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:

Oh, gosh - you are so right - the 'trunk' is the 'boot' where you live! Maybe I should add that word here and there? These are tremendous fun, by the way - I think adults look forward to it more than children! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on September 26, 2012:

Well, I honestly thought that you'd made a weird spelling mistake in your title there! Never heard of trunk or treat - (I guess it would be called Boot or Treat in the UK, but haven't heard of that either!) Anyhow - it does sound like a very sensible idea whilst still being fun for participants.

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