As I perused my memory bank for recollections of long-ago childhood Halloweens — boy, did we get a lot of candy in our neighborhood! and really big bars of it, too! — the image of a small decorated milk carton soon surfaced. Yes, the Unicef collection device. Me in my costume, the candy bag in one hand and the little carton with the coin slot in the other. I would dutifully bring my carton back to school and watch the dimes and nickels and pennies get poured out into a larger container, never really knowing where the money went. I just had faith that it went where it should. And I certainly didn’t give thought to how such a simple, ubiquitous and persistent charity device came about.
Until yesterday morning when — sitting in my kitchen wondering how many miniature bars of candy to lay in for my trick-or-treaters — I read the obituary of Mary Emma Allison in The New York Times. She died just the other day, at age 93. Yes, it was her idea. And today is its 60th anniversary. Alive and well.
As recounted by Margalit Fox, Mrs. Allison — a young mother, the wife of a minister, a woman who “had long been concerned with social responsibility” — conflated seeing a parade of costumed children who were already involved with a Unicef campaign, with the parade of costumed children who would come by her house on Halloween. Need and a way to address that need coincided in her imagination and she “came up with a world-changing plan.”
The project remains vibrant. According to the Times, “Since its inception, Trick-or-Treat for Unicef has raised more than $160 million. The money buys food, clean water, milk, medicine and much else for children in more than 150 countries.”
Always looking for proof of the power of individual ideas, I relished Mrs. Allison’s story — again, quoting, “All on account of a thoughtful young woman who, driving though town on a long-ago autumn, opted to follow a children’s parade.”