|Deerfield, NJ||September 17, 2022|
This sign in New Jersey stands beside the parking lot for the Deerfield Presbyterian Church, where the co-founders of a renowned holiday tradition are interred. In 1947, schoolteacher Mary Emma Allison first approached her husband, Clyde, about the notion of harnessing the largesse of Halloween into a charitable endeavor that better fulfilled children’s basic needs. Two years later, Allison was buying her children coats in Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Department Store and saw a parade and a cow, which led her to a promotional booth. The bovine was being used to draw attention to a powdered milk drive conducted by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). “Clyde, I found it!” Mrs. Allison said when she next saw her husband. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we went trick-or-treating for UNICEF?”
In advance of Halloween 1950, Mary Emma Allison wrote an article titled “Trick or Treat for All the World’s Children.” Clyde, a Presbyterian minister, saw to it that his wife’s piece was published in a newsletter he edited that was distributed nationally to Sunday school programs. Allison’s words galvanized enough support to raise $17 that first Halloween (equivalent to the purchasing power of $210 when I visited her and Clyde’s grave in 2022). $17 may seem insignificant through a modern lens, but UNICEF’s website notes that, back then, “a dime was all it took to buy 50 glasses of milk for hungry children.” UNICEF was intrigued by the donations and the efforts of the Allisons, whom the organization tracked down in Philadelphia to express its gratitude. By 1953, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF was run by the U.S. Committee for UNICEF and on its way to becoming a United Nations staple program. UNICEF honored the Allisons several times over the ensuing decades, as their brainchild’s scope grew beyond anything the couple had envisioned. Clyde and Mary Emma’s tombstone commemorates their role as the creators of UNICEF’s trick-or-treat tradition.
Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, heaped effusive praise on Mary Emma Allison and her late husband upon the co-originator’s death shortly before Halloween 2010. “What began as a simple wish to turn Halloween into something ‘good’ resulted in the nation’s longest-running youth service program,” Stern hailed. “Because of the Allisons, untold numbers of children’s lives have been saved and improved over the last 60 years. And generations of American children have been inspired to follow their hearts and supplement their Halloween candy collection with something much more important.”
Born: March 5, 1917 in Deerfield, New Jersey
Spouse: Clyde Monroe Allison (m. circa 1944-2009)
Died: October 27, 2010 in Lowell, Indiana
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Interment: Deerfield Presbyterian Church, Deerfield, New Jersey
"Our specific interest is in sending milk abroad to children who, without United Nations aid, would not have any … Use paper milk boxes to hold your money or washed-out milk cans with slits cut in the tops as collection banks."
- Mary Emma Allison
1950, in her article "Trick or Treat for All the World's Children: Something New for Halloween"
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Bennett, Kitty. “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.” AARP Bulletin. October 29, 2010. https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-10-2010/where_are_they_now_trick_or_treat_for_unicef.html.
Collins, Huntly. “UNICEF PROGRAM TURNS 50.” Greensboro News & Record. October 30, 2000. Updated January 26, 2015. https://greensboro.com/unicef-program-turns-50/article_1f1fed6e-b04c-57a8-9b6e-023e748d71eb.html.
Fox, Margalit. “Mary Emma Allison, Who Inspired Charitable Ghouls, Dies at 93.” New York Times. October 29, 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/30/us/30allison.html.
Hart, Marion. “This Halloween, Trick-or-Treaters for UNICEF Can Help End the Pandemic.” UNICEF USA. October 21, 2021. https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/halloween-trick-or-treaters-unicef-can-help-end-pandemic/30632.
UNICEF USA. “History Timeline.” Accessed December 23, 2022. https://www.unicefusa.org/node23991/.