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Hagerstown Salvation Army offers alternative to trick-or-treating

November 01, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - "Who is Jesus?"

The pigtailed 12-year-old in purple pajama pants and a bib hesitates, then removes the pacifier from her mouth.

"God's son," she says, and Kaleb Jewell, 16, hands her a token to drop into a board with pegs to determine how much candy she gets.

This is trick-or-treat with a twist, a la The Salvation Army's Hallelujah Carnival, a Halloween alternative where costumed children play ring-toss and tip-a-jug for candy prizes while a Christian rock band plays in the background.

The free carnival, held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Halloween in a fenced-in court at 541 George Street, also serves as a block party to foster community in the city's West End, Salvation Army Maj. Robert Lyle said.

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"I think it's great," said Mandy Henry, 29, of Hagerstown, who had a 2-year-old skunk and 5-year-old dragon in tow. "It's a way to express Christianity and keep the bad meanings of Halloween out of it."

The carnival also offers a safer environment than going door-to-door, Lyle said, because it keeps children away from traffic and parents can rest assured that the candy is new and hasn't been tampered with.

"It gives kids something to do rather than being hit by a car or getting attacked by somebody," said Samantha Catir, 21, of Hagerstown.

Behind her in line, a 9-year-old purple princess agreed.

"I think it's funner because we get to play games and rather than being hit by a car we can be here having fun," said Erica Earl, who was minus a princess crown because someone had stepped on it.

Like many of this year's hundreds of visitors, Tkeyah McDowell, 11, and Lafazia Harris, 10, happened across the carnival by chance as they were trick-or-treating on George Street.

"It looked really fun," said Tkeyah, snacking on popcorn in her hobo costume.

"I came here to have fun and enjoy the music and see everyone in costume," added Lafazia, who was dressed as Freddy Krueger and had opted for a snow cone.

The snow cones, popcorn, hot dogs and candy were all free, paid for by donations from Salvation Army board members and friends, Lyle said.

Lyle and his wife started the tradition last year after moving to Hagerstown from Charleston, S.C., where they had started a similar carnival.

He said it was a way to get to know the community and to reach out to those who had fallen on hard times. As parents entered the court, volunteers took down their names and addresses so the Salvation Army could get in touch with them about projects such as a summer day camp, an after-school program and a plan to build a multi-purpose community building.

"Really, I think it draws the community together," Lyle said. "You have folks who would never see each other if it weren't for events like this. For 2 1/2 hours on Halloween, there's no black or white, just ghosts and goblins."

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