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Island senior hopes to bring back Trick or Treat for UNICEF tradition

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter MIHS senior Christina Mortimer is bringing Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to the Island this fall. The program raises funds for numerous charitable services throughout the world. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter MIHS senior Christina Mortimer is bringing Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to the Island this fall. The program raises funds for numerous charitable services throughout the world.
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Christina Mortimer has always associated Halloween with UNICEF. As far as she’s concerned, the two go together like costumes and candy. But when she moved from Toronto, Canada, to Mercer Island five years ago and celebrated her first Halloween in America, Mortimer realized that few Islanders had even heard of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. This Halloween, the Mercer Island High School senior is going to change that.

As part of her culminating project, Mortimer will introduce the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF tradition to Islanders.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was founded in 1946 to provide relief for children living in countries that had been devastated by World War II. It has since grown into a world-wide organization devoted to a myriad of charitable services, from collecting food for children in developing countries to campaigning for education equality.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF began in 1950 when a Philadelphia school organized a door-to-door fundraiser on Halloween. Instead of carrying bags of candy, the children paraded around their neighborhoods with decorated milk cartons full of donations. The school made a total of $17, according to the UNICEF Web site. The campaign has since raised more than $188 million.

Yet most people on Mercer Island have never seen the trademark bright orange UNICEF box.

“In Toronto, [Trick-or-treat for UNICEF] was a big program and pretty rigorous,” Mortimer said. “Their motto, ‘Kids Helping Kids,’ really sticks out from my childhood.”

The senior explained how, when she was growing up, each class in her elementary school would compete to raise the most UNICEF donations on Halloween. Candy bags in one hand, UNICEF boxes in the other, Mortimer and her friends would run through their neighborhood collecting as much change — and chocolate bars — as possible before their Halloween curfew.

“When I moved [to Mercer Island], I was surprised not to see it here. I thought Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF was everywhere, but I guess not,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Jim Pearman has lived on the Island for 38 years. He remembers his South-end Park West neighborhood being filled with trick-or-treaters as a teenager but doesn’t recall one UNICEF collection box.

“I never remember Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF being on Mercer Island,” the deputy mayor said. “Before I moved to the Island, I lived in Leschi, [Seattle], and it was definitely there. We would have kids coming to our house with those boxes.”

Whether or not UNICEF Halloween goblins have knocked on Island doors in years past, they will be knocking this Halloween. Mortimer has already spoken with the principals of all three elementary schools, who have agreed to let her visit and discuss the project, as well as hand out UNICEF collection boxes to students.

Originally, Mortimer was hoping to set up a competition among the elementary schools, with a prize for raising the most donations. But according to Mercer Island School District rules, she would have had to submit her proposal to the Parent Advisory Committee six months prior for approval. Since she missed the spring deadline, Mortimer cannot officially organize a school-wide contest.

“Whenever we have a school charity, it has to be approved by our Parent Advisory Committee. That’s the only reason she can’t hold a competition, because it needed approval last spring,” said Lynn Lawrence, administrative assistant at West Mercer Elementary. “But we all completely support her UNICEF project, and so we’re allowing her to come and speak to the classrooms. She just can’t go the extra mile with a competition.”

Although Mortimer admitted that the news came as a disappointment, she accepts that the district has its rules.

“At first I was pretty disappointed,” she said. “But everything taken into consideration, it’s not that bad because the principals are actually helping me, which is great.”

The most difficult part of her project, Mortimer said, will be getting the word out to Island residents.

“Distributing the boxes to students and informing them about the trick-or-treat is the easy part. What I’m worried about is getting the community involved. The Island is pretty big,” she said.

Mortimer plans to focus on The Lakes neighborhood, which has long been a popular trick-or-treat destination for children across the Island. She will also distribute flyers on Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to Island residents and send a letter home with each student.

Since this will be the Island’s first Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, Mortimer hesitates to set a fundraising goal, although she hopes the students raise at least a couple hundred dollars. Her true motive, the senior emphasized, is to turn the fundraiser into a lasting tradition.

“I hope everyone will get excited about this and continue it,” Mortimer said. “The Mercer Island community is pretty generous. And raising money for UNICEF would give young students a sense that they’re helping in the world.”

For more information on UNICEF, visit www.unicef.org.

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