Can you trust candy from your neighbors?

Halloween reminds us of the impact of our neighborhood on our health and well-being.

110115 Coche No Ordinary Life 

Subtitle: safe neighborhoods enhance personal well being

Overview: A taste of old fashioned neighborhood spirit reminds us all of how crucial it is to our wellbeing for us to feel safe at home


“Mom, the girls are jumping up and down to get going.  We’ll meet you there. “I hurriedly made my way to “the” trick or treat street” in iconic Haddonfield New Jersey, where my kids had opted to walk from home for trick or treating. “It’s quite a scene,” my daughter had said with a twinkle. “Better not bring a dog. There’s lots going on and it gets crowded. ” I found it hard to imagine the widely proportioned street “crowded.” The historic Victorian Houses greet visitors with thousands of dollars of candy annually each October 31st.

I did not know what to expect but I knew I was in for a real treat on many levels.  I had purchased elegantly sequined outfits for my granddaughters, ages 6 and 9. Ava looked amazing in her satin teal costume with beautifully executed make up by ex-Nutcracker child star, daughter Juliette Galbraith, M.D.  Ava needed a large pillowcase to hoist over her shoulder as the bag got too heavy to lug from decorated home to even better decorate home. 

 The neighborhood was out in full style: word travels fast when a safe community opens its doors and its hearts to the child in each of us.  “There are big snickers at the house down the block with the huge ghost and goblins on the lawn”….kids shared the “best houses” with friends they met on the street as lines formed for homemade donuts and “big” candy bars. Families spent hundreds of dollars on candy.  One substantial Victorian home had gone all out as lines formed to wait politely and chatted with others in line for up to ten minutes, waiting their turn at the front door. I counted about 50 people on foot and in strollers, and of course, the occasional dog dressed like a hot dog or mountain goat. The scene was splendiferous. Good neighborliness reigned supreme as adults greeted one another and chatted about local school events or playground details. It was obvious that the neighbors knew and cared about each other. 

We walked for over three hours, landing finally at the most elaborate Halloween give away I have ever witnessed.  Sara, 6, long blond hair flowing down her the back of her elegant periwinkle velvet Rapunzel outfit, stood in wonder as she looked up to see the face of the person on stilts who directed her to the hand spun cotton candy being spun just for her.  The woman who made the candy reported that she estimated over 500 customers.  As I watched Sara get her candy, a tall man standing in front of the mansion I assumed to be his, approached me. “And what might I get for you? “ Nearby adults sipped from wine glasses as they waited. Memorable it was indeed. 

The events of the day generated reminisce about my own iconic Halloweens.  As a small child on Philadelphia’s prestigious suburban Main Line, Halloween was a similarly heartfelt generous event, with neighbor outdoing neighbor for the unstated honor of having the best reputation for choices in free candy. My biggest worry was whether I would be caught dead in some of the costumes I reluctantly slid into over my “real “clothes, so that I too could get great gobs of sugar with no allowance output.  No parents worried about danger. It was not dangerous. But it was simple: there was little outside decoration save a hand carved pumpkin with a candle. Older kids went alone with no parental outings to alter their spontaneous fun. Modest, easy, clean neighborhood fun.

I falsely assumed that those good ole days could not return since, inthe 1970s and 1980s, Halloween trick-or-treating got a seriously poor reputation. We worried about poison in candy and hidden dangers lurking in the foliage in the garden.  We eschewed letting our properly loved children out after dark.  Trick or treating took on a macabre connotation. So, I escorted my petite, angelic faced daughter to neighboring Rittenhouse Square blocks where we lived, where highly well dressed and friendly neighbors handled themselves with dignity and generosity. But we still worried about the about “bad people “who poison the fun for it.  Even in the best of neighborhoods there was an unclear but present danger.  

Each year, we find many editorials about the safety of Halloween. We hear of stabbings and dire consequences that have replaced “the candy holiday.”  Facts help.  Sociologists Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi, studied every reported Halloween incident since 1958. They found no instances where strangers caused children life-threatening harm on Halloween by tampering with their candy. But each year we do hear about bodily injury to innocent victims out for a national holiday. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has spearheaded a national initiative to examine the influence of our communities on our health and wellbeing. Health can also be shaped by the social environments of neighborhoods. Those of us who live in  “close-knit” neighborhoods, regardless of economic affluence, are likely to feel more connected and to work together to build cleaner and safer public spaces and better schools. They are also more likely to discourage crime and drug use among their young, directly impacting the future health of their citizens. Neighborhoods in which residents express mutual trust are safer than less closely-knit neighborhoods, where social disorder is related to anxiety and depression. Where we live influences that we trust and how we flourish at home. Period.

Each year I am grateful for the safety of my own Halloweens, long taken for granted. So I report with relief and admiration, that we still have communities where it is safe for young kids to bike to the big kids playground without parents and play ball to their hearts delight. And those very same communities, be they in a city, suburb, or country setting, create the safety and well-being we want for ourselves, our elders and our children.



To consider: You have the choice to feel tricked or offered a generous treat from those who surround you. How will your decision impact those you love? And just how much does that matter?


To explore: The impact of community on our physical and emotional health….wander around the website of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation…  Just look at all the good we can do!



Norris Clark