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What has candy and floor mats?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 26, 2010 - So much for tradition.

The mummy shrouded from head to toe in linen strips did not care that she had to walk only one car's width to arrive at the next outstretched hand of candy. Nor did this particular mummy, known as Amanda Stoker, age 10, the other 364 days of the year, seem to mind that instead of climbing up to door stoops and porches looking for candy, she just had to walk up to the open trunks ghoulishly decorated in Manchester United Methodist Church's parking lot.

Amanda -- along with witches, ghosts and other members of the undead -- was at Manchester UMC's parking lot this past Sunday for the church's second Halloween trunk-or-treat celebration.

"It's like trick-or-treating, except people open their trunks and give out candy," Amanda explained through a rip in the linen strips covering her face. At Manchester UMC at least three dozen cars were parked and decorated for trunk-or-treating and hundreds of children and parents progressing from trunk to trunk through the parking lot's rows.

Individual trunks were decorated as variously as the costumes of the trunk-or-treaters. There was Shrek's forest, a castle with a draw bridge, a cob-webbed graveyard, and a fortune teller's shack, among others.

For Jenny Jacquin, watching over her decorated car trunk while holding her daughter Hannah, age 2, trunk-or-treating is a great event. "She's maybe a little bit too young to go trick-or-treating," Jacquin said about her daughter, "but here she gets to see the older kids dressed up."

Most of the older children's parents are not expecting trunk-or-treating to replace trick-or-treating. All the children at Manchester UMC were still very excited for Halloween proper this weekend. But in church parking lots across the St. Louis area, children and their parents are coming together to celebrate this newest version of Halloween candy-gathering.

For many church members who feel as comfortable with their church congregations as they do with next-door neighbors, having the chance to celebrate Halloween with both groups enhances the holiday. And for people who do not feel safe walking up and down streets, trunk-or-treating provides a new chance for their children to dress up and ask riddles or tell jokes to strangers in exchange for candy.

In the St. Louis area, trunk-or-treating events have been happening for the past five or six Halloweens, but no one is certain when or where the first such gathering was held. For rural areas, trunk-or-treating solves the problem of the great distances that separate rural homes. When a mile of farmland separates your home from the first trick-or-treating stop, filling a basket full of chocolate bars and malt balls can turn into an odyssey. For families living along winding, unlit backroads, trunk-or-treating gives children the only chance to participate safely in Halloween rituals.

While some churches have attempted to use trunk-or-treating to "turn Halloween into a 'Christian Halloween Celebration' by using it to share God's love," according to the Christian webstore memorycross.com, that sentiment was not evident in the motivations of any of the St. Louis organizers interviewed.

Connie Ochs, Manchester UMC's trunk-or-treat organizer, first suggested the event while brainstorming for new community-outreach. "Years ago they had a halloween party for the kids, but it fell by the wayside, but my mother's church -- she's from Topeka (Kansas) -- has been holding trunk-or-treats for the past 10 years," Ochs said.

Last year, Manchester UMC's first trunk-or-treat attracted 400 children. "We targeted the event to (church) membership. We were not sure if we could handle a huge crowd," Ochs said. But this year, the church attempted to attract a larger crowd from the wider community. Though Ochs hoped for 1,000 children to turnout, "it really depends on the weather. We don't really know how many people to expect," Ochs said.

The Carondolet branch of the YMCA also held a trunk-or-treat event this past weekend, and its goals for the event were similar to Manchester UMC's. The idea behind this, the Y's first trunk-or-treat, was for members to "come to one place where everyone can be together and celebrate together," Marybeth Boyle, director of marketing at the Carondolet branch, said. The Carondolet YMCA specifically set its date a week before Halloween to avoid competition.

"The trunk-or-treating went very well. We'll probably repeat it next year," Boyle said after the event. "Trunk-or-treating gave our members who might not be next-door neighbors the opportunity to trick-or-treat together in a safe and welcoming environment. It was in the daylight, it was non-threatening, and it was supervised. It was very family friendly atmosphere."

Both the Carondolet YMCA's and Manchester UMC's events shared a "very family friendly atmosphere." Manchester UMC's event was followed by a short Halloween organ concert called Pipe Squeaks playing children's Halloween music, and the organizers discouraged extremely creepy costumes and decorations.

For Patrick Barton, 8, Manchester UMC's parking lot had just the right amount of scary. Slyly pointing to a lightning bolt scar on his forehead with his wand, he helped a clueless reporter guess whom he had dressed up as. As other children came up to his mother, Ginger, asking for candy, he explained why he loves trunk-or-treating. The same reason coincidentally he loves trick-or-treating: "Lots of candy."

Then he, a grim reaper and a ghost raced away down a row of cars. Patrick and Amanda and the others may be at the start of a new tradition.

Alex Sciuto is a Beacon intern. 

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