Putting on a costume and going door to door collecting candy is one of many childhood traditions people took for granted until COVID-19 shut down the world.
That’s why the Niagara United Mennonite Church decided to have a COVID safe "Trunk or Treat Halloween" on Sunday – so kids could get back to being kids, pastor Chris Hutton said.
“For some of these kids, who were born less than two years ago, their whole life has been COVID. Just being able to see people is new for them,” Hutton said in an interview outside the Redbrick Church on Sunday.
He helped organize the Trunk or Treat day, which had more than 30 cars parked in the church’s lot with their trunks wide open for kids to walk car to car getting candy.
Hutton saw it as a good opportunity to start rebuilding community gatherings after the pandemic while keeping safety protocols top of mind.
“It’s encouraging to see so many people coming back. It has been a very gradual process. There’s lots of families who came out today for this specific event and they haven’t been out before,” he said.
Activities for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s youth have the dual importance of enabling significant childhood memories to be created and helping with mental health and socialization skills affected by the pandemic, said Marlene Corzychowski.
“My granddaughter is really shy. Not all kids are shy, but she is a little shy and she’s been having Zoom class all year,” Corzychowski said.
“It’s hard for her. She’s getting better, but it’s hard.”
Hutton said his church is supportive of any COVID safety precautions health authorities recommend and he does not understand religious organizations that have got involved in any political debates about the virus.
“It’s weird that (COVID) is a political issue. And, yeah, churches have unfortunately got caught up in that,” Hutton said.
“Our feeling has been that God gave us medical professionals for a good reason. They know what they are talking about. We don’t see a reason why we would object to that.”
Hutton said he also doesn’t understand why some people look for malicious intent behind something inherently good, like a vaccine.
“Listen to our professionals and do our best to keep people safe,” he said.
Emily Fieguth took COVID precautions seriously.
She set up an elaborate Trunk or Treat display consisting of a homemade design of a gum-ball machine painted onto plywood which even had a handle and opening slot on it.
There was hand sanitizer attached to the cutout and Fieguth brought a toy claw so she could distribute the candy without having to ever touch it herself.
The mother said all of her children are grown and she hasn’t done anything for Halloween in years.
“It’s fun to get back into it and do something nice for the kids,” she said.
Over at Fort George another Trunk or Treat was taking place, coinciding with the fort's final day of operations for the season.
“We want people to know that we are still here and we’re trying to keep things as normal as possible and still run our events,” Friends of Fort George representative Maureen Hayslip said as she waited for trunk or treaters.
The Fort George event wasn’t quite as crowded as the one at the Redbrick Church, but there were some notable figures present, including Harry Potter, a ghostbuster and even Roman emperor Julius Caesar.
“Hopefully my Brutus doesn’t show up,” Alexander McGee joked in his Roman regalia.
Dan Laroche, site supervisor for Fort George, said in 2020 visits to the fort fell 90 per cent but numbers significantly recovered this year.
The fort was limited by pandemic restrictions from putting on its usual activities, but there was one metric Laroche was particularly proud of for the year.
“The fact that we were able to open up and provide safe programming for the public and the fact that no staff got sick. I will take that as a success any day of the week,” he said.
At the Redbrick Church, the success of the Trunk or Treat wasn’t just because it embraced COVID precautions but because it also made Halloween more accessible for a lot of NOTL kids who live in rural communities, Fieguth said. And maybe it will spark a new tradition.
“I don’t ever actually get kids at my house because we are in the country,” she said.
“We have two grandkids in Europe and this is what they always do,” Corzychowski said.
For some of the adults, it was comforting to see the world functioning somewhat like they are used to.
“It’s really, really nice to get kind of back to a near-normal,” Graham Thwaites said while his two kids were out trunk or treating.
“We’re bringing back a sense of normality for the kids. They had it tough this last year,” said Alex Bradnam.
“You can see how everybody’s engaged in this. It’s just so great to be able to make this a really wonderful experience for the children,” said Erika Froese.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report