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Teal pumpkins a Halloween sign for parents with kids who have food allergies

Stephen and Nicole Lahey outside their Hewlett home

Stephen and Nicole Lahey outside their Hewlett home with daughter Harper, 2, and son Gunnar, 10 months, on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The Laheys put a teal-colored pumpkin outside their home to let trick-or-treaters know they'll be handing out non-edible treats; the goal is to make Halloween more inclusive for children like Harper, who has severe food allergies. Credit: Tara Conry

On the front steps of the Laheys’ house in Hewlett sits an eye-catching teal Jack-o-Lantern ready to welcome trick-or-treaters this Halloween. The pumpkin is a sign to parents that the home has something other than candy to offer.

Instead of chocolate bars and peanut butter cups, Nicole Lahey, 27, said she’ll be handing out pumpkin-shaped temporary tattoos to the costumed kids who ring her doorbell on Friday.

As the mother of a child with severe food allergies, Lahey knows Halloween can be a challenging day for parents whose kids cannot eat the edible treats neighbors give out. She’s a big supporter of the Teal Pumpkin Project.

The national initiative, started this year by the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education, is encouraging communities to make Halloween “less scary” and more inclusive for children with food allergies by doling out nonfood treats either in place of or in addition to candy.

And to let families know where to find these alternative goodies, FARE asks participants to paint a pumpkin teal — the color for food allergy awareness — and place it outside their homes along with a free sign that can be downloaded from its website:

“I don’t expect the world to change because my kid has allergies, but it would be nice if this could pick up,” she said. “It does take a little bit of extra effort, but anytime someone goes out of their way to accommodate my child’s needs I’m so thankful.”

Lahey’s 2-year-old daughter, Harper, is severely allergic to eggs, dairy, gluten and rye. Since she has to be on such a restrictive diet, Lahey and her husband, Stephen, cook every meal for her.

“If we leave the house for the day, we can’t just stop at a restaurant,” she said. “We struggle on a daily basis on where we can go and not go.”

But Lahey said she didn’t want her daughter to miss out on the fun of Halloween. Last year, she took Harper trick-or-treating. She let her collect candy, but wouldn’t let her eat it. Instead, Lahey carried a bag of lollipops and other safe snacks to give to her in exchange.

Lissa Zukoff, 44, of Merrick, employs a similar practice with her son, Jonathan, 10, who is highly allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. She buys back the candy he can’t eat at a quarter per piece, and her son uses the money to purchase iTunes gift cards.

The Zukoffs also have a teal pumpkin this year and will be handing out stickers, temporary tattoos and plastic Halloween-themed rings.

“No one is saying don’t have candy for the kids who can eat it, but it is nice to buy a pack of stickers or pencils for children who can’t,” she said.

The fifth-grader at Old Mill Elementary School said he’s educated his classmates about the Teal Pumpkin Project, so “kids don’t have to feel left out.”

And when he grows up, he said he wants to help find a cure for food allergies — after he retires from a successful career as a NASCAR driver.

Oh, and he has one other wish.

Last Halloween, Jonathan dressed up as his favorite NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch, who happens to be sponsored by M&M’s. He paraded around the neighborhood sporting the candy brand’s logo on his costume, but it's a treat he can’t eat … at least for now.

His plea to the candy maker: “Make nondairy M&M’s, please!”


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