The foundation focuses on bringing joy to hospitalized children through Halloween parties and raising funds for their treatment.
Halloween, celebrated on October 31 every year, is an occasion that most families with young children look forward to celebrating. It gives kids a chance to dress up in their favorite costumes and go out in the neighborhood to get sweet treats. Sadly, kids who face hospital stays during this period miss out on all the celebrations. Luckily, the Spirit of Children, Spirit Halloween's charitable foundation, is here to make sure that kids in hospitals don't miss out on all the spooky fun.
Upworthy got a chance to connect with Rick Tereo, Director of Corporate Administration & Spirit of Children Foundation, to take a closer look at what the organization does. According to Tereo, the charity was founded in 2006 to make hospitals less scary for kids and their families. "We do this in two ways–hosting annual Halloween celebrations at hospitals across North America and raising funds that support year-round work of hospital Child Life programs," he explained. Through these efforts, the organization allows kids in hospitals to celebrate Halloween despite being stuck in a hospital.
They acknowledge how staying in hospitals can sometimes be scary for children and their families. The organization also works with Child Life departments by providing funds and facilitating their life-saving work. They initially began with the objective of hosting Halloween parties for kids who had extended hospital stays.
He says, "In our first year, we partnered with a handful of hospitals and brought costumes, decorations, activities– all the makings of a celebration–for every kid." Speaking of the initiative, the Children's Wisconsin Hospital in Milwaukee said: "Spirit of Children helps us deliver kid-centered care and compassion in new and innovative ways."
Over time, they began noticing the profound impact their efforts had on kids and their families. It also came to their attention that Child Life programs were not getting adequate funds and they decided to contribute 100% of the funds raised to the program. It helped them move closer to their aim of making hospital stays and visits less scary for kids throughout the year.
The organization has massively expanded its operations over the years. UR Medicine Golisano Children's Hospital, NY, said of the organization: "Spirit of Children events bring joy and imagination to children during a time of fear and anxiety. Spirit of Children funding creates opportunities for play and support during challenging times."
In their first year of operation, they worked closely with 11 hospitals to host Halloween parties. Reflecting on the organization's expansion, Tereo said: "That number has grown significantly through the year and for 2023, we'll be working with over 150 hospitals to bring the magic of Halloween to their young patients."
The organization, which has been raising funds since 2007, has managed to donate an impressive $110 million, all thanks to the generosity of its guests, store associates, vendors and license partners. Their goal for the current year is to raise $18 million. A representative of Children's Hospital Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, said, "Each donation from Spirit of Children helps provide much-needed support for our patients and their families to reduce stress and anxiety and promote positive coping during treatment."
Tereo shared that he would try his best to go to at least one Spirit of Halloween event every year. "The joy on every child's face is priceless and seeing families watch their children get to take part in the fun of Halloween is incredibly moving," he said. He shared an unforgettable conversation he had with a mother who had two sons in the hospital at such an event. The woman shared that their illness had "taken over their lives" and their family found it difficult to focus on other things.
He shared, "As she watched both of her young boys have their faces painted as Spiderman and Captain America and saw the sheer joy on their faces, she relaxed and her face completely illuminated with joy." The woman revealed to Tereo that she got to see her boys happy for the first time after many difficult weeks. When asked if the organization had faced any challenges regarding funding, he revealed that they were very "fortunate," having received generous contributions from guests, associates, vendors and licensing partners.
Tereo revealed that more than 11 million guests had contributed to their noble cause at Spirit Halloween store checkouts in 2022. He also specified that funds raised in a particular area are distributed to the hospitals in the vicinity. So, by making contributions, people are aware that they are contributing to their local community. He also mentioned how they had hard-working Spirit Halloween store associates who did an amazing job at spreading the message and raising funds.
The initiative has had a largely positive response from children and their families, hospitals and Child Life staff. Hospital partners highlighted how the Spirit of Children played a pivotal role in ensuring funding for Child Life programs, allowing them to pay for specialists and run educational activities and therapy programs. Moreover, their Halloween celebrations provide kids and families with a much-needed sense of "normalcy." Tereo stated, "We receive countless letters, photographs and artwork from the families that participate - and we display them all proudly in our office headquarters."
Laura Moa, a mother who takes her daughter Lily to the Armold Palmer Hospital for Children, spoke about how Child Life helped make hospital visits easier. She said, "As soon as Lily gets to the hospital, she knows what to look forward to. It's very positive." Moa mentioned how her daughter knew she had friends there and could play despite the stress their family faced. "She finds herself at home here," she said.
The Spirit of Children's contributions to Child Life have helped many other families across the nation over the years. CoxHealth Dee Ann White Women's and Children's Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, said, "Without this partnership, our child life team would not be able to provide kid-friendly and family-centered services."
When asked how individuals could contribute to this heartwarming cause, Tereo said they could make donations at any Spirit Halloween store location or through their official website. However, guests would ideally want to go to a store as the organization has a beloved tradition of ringing a purple cowbell to celebrate the individual's contribution. With more than 1,500 stores across the nation, it can get quite noisy during the peak season, but fans of the foundation love to hear the sound of the Spirit of Children cowbell.
For this year, the organization will be working with its 159 partner hospitals to host a wide variety of Halloween events over an entire week. In an official press release, they revealed that some events include in-person costume parties, trick-or-treating, parades and other seasonal festivities. On every occasion, there will be costumes, celebration packages containing activity books and treat bags provided to the pediatric hospital partners, thanks to the kind assistance of Spirit Halloween's vendor collaborators.