Brad Van Bibbler, a teacher, pushes the dust mop down the wide expanse of floor, tired, a little warm, but with a happy grin on his face. “Where are the deacons?” he asks, not really minding having to do the sweeping himself.
Alan Miner, second counselor in the bishopric, is on his knees in the corner, wiping a splotch of punch, a weary, kind of satisfied expression curving his mouth.
David Moffat, a priest, is heard to chuckle as he carries out enough cardboard boxes to crate all the neighborhood refrigerators.
In the kitchen, Cyndi Haymore, Laurel class president in charge of divvying up leftovers, asks with a laugh, “Okay, you guys, who wants the 23 hot dogs with mustard? We also have here 14 cups of lovely green jello!”
Upstairs Pete Smith, a priest, is seen climbing out of something that looks suspiciously like a coffin, and the priests and deacons are folding up sheets from which the former ghostly inhabitants have fled.
The young people and their leaders have been working hard all afternoon, and they are still working late into the night. So why the happy faces? Ask the little clown skipping out to the family car with his sister, the witch. Or ask the sleepy green Dracula with cupcake frosting on his nose, or the small, curly headed Wonder Woman who is resting in her mother’s arms with a bottle of warm milk.
Or better yet, ask their parents.
The scene is the close of the fifth annual Valley View Sixth Ward (Salt Lake Valley View Stake) neighborhood Halloween party. Once again it has been a success and once again, in spite of the work, it has been satisfying and fun and safe.
It all started a few years ago when the young men and women of the ward began to hear of the not-so-happy experiences some children around the country were having as they went out on Halloween night to trick-or-treat. Remembering how much they as youngsters had enjoyed the traditional activities of this night, they felt it somehow wasn’t fair that their younger brothers and sisters should have to miss out. And so a new tradition was born.
The first year the party was held, only the Primary children and their parents were invited, but about halfway through that evening the young people realized they were leaving out almost half the children of the neighborhood. The next year everyone under 12 and their parents were invited. “This year we brought nine nonmember neighbors,” said Adrienne Brantzeg, a Laurel. Two of those were six-year-old Martin Seraphin and his mother who had recently moved with their family to Salt Lake City from New Jersey. “He’ll remember this until he’s 43,” Mrs Seraphin said of her son. “I can’t believe there are young people who would go to all this work just to serve the neighborhood children.”
And they do go to a lot of work. Planning begins during the last two weeks of September. Youth and adult leaders meet to make assignments. Traditionally, the Laurels are in charge of food (a light dinner), the Mia Maids handle publicity and decorations, and the Beehives plan and direct games. The priests, teachers, and deacons put together the spook alley that wanders through several rooms on the second floor of the meetinghouse, and the priests build the cardboard tunnel slide that swoops the children from the end of the spook alley, down the stairs, and into the foyer of the chapel. All are asked to help with cleanup.
After the assignments are made and specific class members are put in charge of different items and activities, adult leaders can take a deep breath and relax. “My Laurel adviser kept calling to check on how the food was coming,” said Cyndi, “but she didn’t have to worry.”
“I spent an entire afternoon making 350 individual Jello salads in plastic cups,” said Monika Guertler. “And after the party was over, and I looked at the Jello puddles here and there on the floor, I still felt it was worth it!”
Mia Maid president Allison Wright and her classmates hand-made and delivered invitations to all the homes within the ward boundaries. Over 300 people attended, with approximately 100 being nonmember children and their parents. “It’s a great chance for us to associate with and get to know those we don’t usually meet through Church activities,” said Marianne Miner. “I was in charge of the punch and chips, and I got a big cauldron-looking pot, put dry ice in the punch to make it smoke, and asked one of my neighbors to dress up like a witch to serve it.”
The Beehives, with Kim Astin directing, decided on five games, some of them successful repeats from former years. “We played Pin the Grin on the Pumpkin, Bite the Apple, Pop the Great Pumpkin’s Balloon, Keep Your Nose Clean (wet sponges are thrown at a member of the ward who stands behind a large cardboard partition and sticks his head through a small opening), and we also had a cakewalk, which works something like musical chairs,” said Kim.
Each year the young men try to make the upstairs spook alley even better than the year before. This year each of the quorums was in charge of a room. “It was pretty spooky,” one little clown was heard to say, “but you don’t have to go through it alone.” The young men make sure that one of their number or a young woman who isn’t busy at the moment accompanies each child through so that no scares are taken too seriously. And many children brave the alley not only because of their “big” friends who help them through, but also because if they don’t go through the spook alley, they don’t get to go down the cardboard slide. The Moffat brothers, Kayle and David, have always volunteered to build the slide. Kayle built it with David’s help for a couple of years, but now he is serving as a full-time missionary and David is handling it alone. David says that by the time he gets his call in a year or two, Kayle will be back and able to take over again.
Do the children seem to miss the trick-or-treat activities of the past? “We think they’d miss our party more,” said the deacons. Weeks before Halloween each year, neighborhood children and their grateful parents, member and non, ask if there’s going to be another celebration.
“Altogether it’s a great tradition,” said Marianne. “You feel happy and satisfied when you see that everyone has enjoyed themselves.” “You feel like you’ve accomplished something,” added Cyndi. “And every year,” said Monika, “you feel as if it is the best party so far.”
Will they do it again next year? You bet! After all, everyone likes to feel happy, and it’s an even deeper and more lasting happiness when there’s a little bit of tired, a good amount of work, and a whole bunch of share involved. Start your own tradition of service and make it a habit! According to the young men and young women of the Valley View Sixth Ward, you not only create a warmer, friendlier, safer neighborhood, you create a better you.