Project Pumpkin brings joy, candy to 800 school children

Ellyde Roko

Fraternity members losing arm-wrestling matches to 8-year-olds and the (male) president of Bobb-McCulloch Hall painting fingernails made Tuesday’s Project Pumpkin an afternoon of students coming together to give local children a safe, fun Halloween party.

“Lots of kids, lots of fun,” said Lara-Mae Webster, Project Pumpkin co-chairwoman and a McCormick senior. “It was something I knew at the end would be worth the work.”

Doling out more than $1,200 worth of candy to 800 elementary school children from Chicago and Evanston, Project Pumpkin took over Norris University Center on Tuesday afternoon. Booths run by 55 student organizations entertained the trick-or-treaters.

“(Children) had a vote between doing something (for Halloween) at our center or coming here, and we chose here,” said Stephania Koliarakis, a Chicago resident who is the assistant director at Evanston Day Nursery. “We’ve been talking about it for the past five days.”

Costumed children played games, grabbed candy and toured a haunted house.

“I’m a cheerleader because I’ve never been a cheerleader in my life, and we wanted to be twins,” said Stephani Gerena, a 9-year-old from Chicago dressed in gold and blue like her friend Alyssa Roscok, also 9 and from Chicago.

But the identically dressed girls disagreed about one thing — whether or not to brave the haunted house.

“I wanted to go in the haunted house but, I can’t because she’s a ‘fraidy-cat,” Stephani said.

“I’m not going in there, man,” Alyssa said.

But plenty of booths were not scary, like Bobb-McCulloch’s nail-painting booth.

“I’m not that great (at painting nails), but it makes them happy,” said Sean Garland, the dorm’s president and a Weinberg sophomore. “There was one boy who came up to me because he only wanted a boy to paint his nails. I thought I was just going to be here to administrate.”

Volunteers covered the tiny fingernails in black and orange polish, but the booth also had an activity for kids who didn’t want painted nails.

“We don’t discriminate against boys,” said Kristen Kelly, a Weinberg sophomore and philanthropy chairwoman of Bobb-McCulloch. “We have Tootsie Pop ghosts with colors on the bottom and they have to say what color it is. So, if they’re little, they can learn their colors.”

Another popular activity was the Candy Cave. Decorations committee members draped black fabric over the table to create a cave.

“(The children) would get scared crawling through the cave,” said Yariella Coello, a Weinberg sophomore dressed as a green M&M. “But I said, ‘You can’t get candy if you don’t go through the cave.’ Word got around that this was the place to get candy, so (children) would stand in line shouting, ‘The Candy Cave! We found it!'”

But parents who went to Project Pumpkin said the event provided more than just candy.

“The different agencies and clubs that promote Project Pumpkin are doing something really remarkable,” said Stephanie Baker, an Evanston resident and mother of Laura, 10. “The diversity is awesome. The university is fulfilling its mission statement.”

Although the event targets children who may not be able to trick-or-treat in safe neighborhoods, parents said safety is even more of a concern this year.

“With the whole anthrax scare, I’d rather be safe,” said Angela Hilliard, an Evanston resident and mother of 9-year-old Arkasha. “I feel safe here, but I’m not going to go house-to-house.”