Ghosts, Goblins and a Good 'Ghoul'

A thoughtful Wynnewood teen starts an organization that gives low-income kids a Halloween.

Halloween Helpers founder Emma Rose Shapiro of Wynnewood (second from right) hands out costumes at a distribution event.For a middle-school student, “giving” isn’t typically a word associated with the spooky Halloween season. When trick-or-treating, the idea is to get in, get all the candy you can, and get out to take stock of your loot. But 13-year-old Emma Rose Shapiro of Wynnewood is challenging that tradition with The Halloween Helpers, an organization that collects and distributes gently used Halloween costumes to children who might otherwise not have a disguise for the big night.

“Besides Christmas and birthdays, Halloween is one of the most important events in a young child’s life,” Emma says. “It provides lifelong memories, develops self-worth, and allows kids to play an active role in their community. Regardless of whether you are age 2 or 92, everyone remembers at least one of their Halloween costumes!”

Children find costumes they like among the selection.That’s why Emma, with help from her mom, Ilyse, began The Halloween Helpers back in 2008. In October of that year, while sorting through costumes, 11-year-old Emma realized how many kids aren’t able to purchase a new costume each year. “Many children would like to participate in Halloween, but they can’t because of the costs of costumes,” she says. “We want to level the playing field and provide costumes regardless of economic constraints.”

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The following summer and fall, Emma and Ilyse spearheaded the effort of collecting as many costumes as possible, setting a goal of 1,000. By the time they held the costume distribution event at the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League on Oct. 19, 2009, community members had donated 2,036 full costumes.

Sixty-five volunteers coordinated the costumes. The most popular, of course, included princesses and fairies for girls and Toy Story characters and superheroes for boys. At the Greater Norristown PAL, tables were set up with costumes organized by size and gender. Any child who came for a costume left with one.

“I’m not a really emotional person,” says Ilyse, “and this was the most emotional night of my family’s life. This one simple idea grew to be such a huge community event. Just this one idea from Emma’s head came to be something that brought so many people together. This year, my kids said to me, ‘You’re not going to cry again, are you?’”

For 2010, Emma, Ilyse and the rest of the Halloween helpers—who include Emma’s dad, Jonathan, and her 8-year-old sister, Molly—duplicated their success. All of the costume donations, some of which came from the Please Touch Museum, were distributed at the John Wister School in Philadelphia this month.

The biggest lesson that Ilyse has taken away from the Halloween Helpers project, which she plans on disseminating beyond the Main Line area in future years, is that there aren’t prerequisites to making a difference in your community. “Any kid, no matter what age, can come up with an amazing idea,” she says.

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