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Long Island

Dentists turn Halloween candy into treats for troops

Dentists and Halloween candy usually do not mix. But about two dozen Long Island dentists are offering a new spin on the holiday - "buying back" trick-or-treat sweets for $1 a pound and sending them to American troops overseas.

The buyback program benefits Operation Gratitude, a Van Nuys, Calif.-based nonprofit that supplies troop care packages. Long Island participants include dentists and volunteers in Huntington, Roslyn and Port Washington.

Separately, a Wisconsin dentist has organized a website - halloweencandybuyback.com - to encourage dentists to participate in candy buybacks.

Dr. Edward Gottlieb of the Mid Nassau Dental Group in Williston Park purchased 620 pounds of candy last year. All of the candy donors signed a poster for service members and the post office sent a truck to pick up the treats.

"We dedicated one whole treatment room to the candy," Gottlieb said. "It smelled like a Nestle factory."

His favorite part was looking at the children's faces during the buyback and getting thank-you letters in the mail from Afghanistan and Iraq. One soldier wrote "it was nice putting something sweet into his mouth, instead of sand," Gottlieb said.

This year, Gottlieb has sent fliers to Mineola schools and said he hopes to collect more than 800 pounds of candy at his office on Nov. 2.

Fellow participants, Dr. Madeleinne Zapantis and Dr. Katherine Meshkati, also dentists, will hold a candy collection at their Manhasset office Nov. 1-6.

Zapantis said her son's Halloween candy collection last year inspired her to join the buyback. "It's awful that a lot of candy will go to waste," she said. "What we hope . . . is the kids will pick their choice pieces, and what they're not eating, they will donate here."

More than 2,000 people across the country - most dentists - have signed up for the buyback this Halloween, said Dr. Chris Kammer, the Middleton, Wis. dentist who has coordinated the effort for three years. The average dental office usually collects 300 to 1,000 pounds of candy, he said.

Overall, the total amount of Halloween candy sent overseas has grown from 20,000 pounds in 2007 to 122,000 pounds in 2009, said Carolyn Blashek, president of Operation Gratitude. Participants tripled in that time from 300 to 1,200 people.

Blashek said the treats have helped boost troop morale and some service members told her they have used candy to connect with children in war zones.

Any individually wrapped, unopened candy can be sold or donated to the Halloween buyback program. More information about Operation Gratitude is at opgratitude.com

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