Teal Pumpkin Project: How a Draper family keeps Halloween safe for kids with allergies

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Oct. 29, 2019 at 7:55 p.m.

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DRAPER — With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to stock up on candy for trick-or-treaters. One Draper mother is reminding people to also include nonfood treats on their shopping list for kids with allergies.

Eight-year-old Tessa Cotterell is dressing up as Disney's Jasmine this year. She is wearing the traditional teal costume.

"They just love trick-or-treating, and going out, and spending time with their friends," said her mother, Courtnie Cotterell.

Teal seems to be a theme in the Cotterell household this time of year. They also place a teal pumpkin on their porch every October — and it's not just for looks.

It is part of a national effort called the Teal Pumpkin Project. Instead of handing out only candy to trick-or-treaters, the Cotterells also hand out fun nonfood items to accommodate kids with dietary restrictions.

"So, then kids with allergies know where they can go trick-or-treat and be safe,” Cotterell explained.

They typically pass out little trinkets and toys like glow sticks, pencils, erasers and festive stickers. She said kids are always excited to walk away with something special.

Courtnie Cotterell said her kids always enjoy dressing up for Halloween each year. (Photo: KSL TV)

Tessa was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when she was just 13 months old. Since then, she’s always had to be super careful about what she eats.

“She has to take precautions everywhere she goes. We always have to be reading labels to see where the food is manufactured (and) if it's cross-contaminated with anything,” Cotterell said. "She could go into anaphylaxis, and so it's really scary.”

This often makes Halloween a difficult holiday "because sometimes you don't get to eat anything that everyone else gets to eat," Tessa said.

“I think one of the hardest things for me, as a mom … was sending her as a 4-year-old up to the door, and saying 'Trick-or-treat!', and then coming back empty-handed,” Cotterell said. “It’s heartbreaking!”

Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Libby Kelly, an allergist at the Holladay Clinic, encourages all parents to be familiar with the symptoms of an allergic reaction. She said symptoms often include “hives, swelling of the eyelids or lips, trouble breathing, coughing, vomiting (and) diarrhea.”

Kelly said the onset can happen immediately. "It's usually within an hour or so,” she said.

For Tessa, it’s more serious. She carries an EpiPen everywhere she goes. If she comes in contact with any trace of peanut, she has to get to the hospital within 10 minutes.

Kelly said food allergies are different from food sensitivities, which usually just cause a bellyache, and need to be handled much more seriously.

Cotterell wants to remind parents that every allergy is different, and the severity also varies. "Some of the trickiest moments we've had are when Tessa, as a child, is being told by an adult, ‘This food is safe for you,’ when it's not," she said.

The family is cautious to avoid cross-contamination. “Halloween gets really scary because you stick all these types of candies in a bag, and then you touch it (the candy) to open it and eat it,” Cotterell said.

That's why Cotterell is extra grateful when friends go out of their way to hand out things Tessa can enjoy. "It means a ton,” she said.

If you are interested in participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, you can list your house on the online map so trick-or-treaters can find you. Cotterell suggests keeping candy and toys in separate bowls so kids have an option when they come to the door.


Aley Davis

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