People & Places

The Bright Side: St. Johnsbury is mounting a Halloween candy campaign

Halloween decorations line a hill along Railroad Street in downtown St. Johnsbury, where an annual holiday parade has been canceled because of Covid-19. Justin Trombly/VTDigger

ST. JOHNSBURY — For the past five years, a handful of residents have organized a Halloween parade in town, blocking off Main Street so that trick-or-treaters can go from house to house safely.

Covid-19 forced the group to cancel this year’s celebration. But with help from generous neighbors, the parade committee plans to send bags of candy to about 800 kids in St. Johnsbury’s K-8 schools for the holiday.

“This year we can’t have crowds like that here,” said Dianne Cummings, one of the organizers. “We want kids to have fun, but we’ve got to be safe.”

The Bright Side is VTDigger’s series on Vermonters doing good during the coronavirus crisis. Read the full series.

Each student at the St. Johnsbury School, Cornerstone School and Good Shepherd Catholic School will receive a small burlap bag with treats and a pencil inside. There’ll be a note, too, Cummings said: “See you next year.”

The parade group has 10 members, and each year they raise about $5,000 from area businesses to put on the event. 

When organizers shut down this year’s plans over concerns about spreading the coronavirus, they decided to approach local schools about sending goodies to kids. 

The candy campaign will cost a fraction of the full parade. But “we didn’t want to approach businesses,” Cummings said. “So many of the small businesses have been hurt this year financially.”

The group wouldn’t have to make that ask, though. A “very good neighbor” decided to cover the $1,800 price tag, Cummings said.

Kathy Silloway and Jerry Webber made that donation.

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“It’s been a really tough year,” said Silloway, a former longtime dentist in St. Johnsbury. “Some people lost their jobs; some people had to stay home. Life has changed for everybody, and we really just didn’t want to put any more burden on other people to donate.”

Silloway and Webber have given money for the parade before and are friends with members of the informal organizing committee. One night this fall, the couple was talking with organizers about the plan, and one of the planners mentioned the need to raise money.

The couple went home and decided to donate the money, Silloway said, to take some weight off everyone’s shoulders.

“Everybody is under some type of stress right now,” she said. “We’re just trying to keep that away from the parents and the kids and just give them a little happiness for Halloween.”

While she worked as a dentist, most of Silloway’s patients were children, she said. “So when somebody mentions kids, my ears perk up.”

Brian Ricca, superintendent of the St. Johnsbury School District, said the parade planners approached principals with the idea last month. 

“It was a pretty easy yes,” Ricca said. “We know that the parade is a real important tradition in St. Johnsbury, and for obvious reasons we understood that it couldn’t be like it was.”

But school officials wanted to help students and families still feel a sense of celebration.

Next Tuesday, parade group members plan to meet and fill the 800 or so bags and deliver them to the schools, Cummings said. The volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves for the task, she said, and the goodie bags will sit in storage until the week of Halloween. 

“So the candy will be in quarantine,” she said wryly. 

Organizers also plan to hold scarecrow and jack-o’-lantern carving competitions, with the contestants’ work displayed in town, and gift cards to local businesses as prizes.

Ricca said he’s proud to work in a community where people are trying to make “some good lemonade out of the lemons of this pandemic.”

“The bottom line is, we’re grateful,” he said. The bulk of the recipients attend his school. 

He just hopes adults reading this story can keep the candy campaign a surprise.

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Justin Trombly

About Justin

Justin Trombly covers the Northeast Kingdom for VTDigger. Before coming to Vermont, he handled breaking news, wrote features and worked on investigations at the Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in Florida. He grew up across Lake Champlain in upstate New York, where he worked for The Buffalo News, the Glens Falls Post-Star and the Plattsburgh Press Republican. He studied English and political science at the University of Rochester.

Email: [email protected]

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