Dollars for Halloween treats

By Gregory Cappis

Halloween is over and candy has been overflowing from pantries, kitchens and living rooms for the past week. What to do with it all? Either eat it and add two inches to a waistline, throw it out or donate it. There is also another option: Sell it.

Dentists across the nation are buying Halloween candy this month to get the sugary treats out of children’s hands and into the ammo pouches of troops. Dr. Chris Kammer, of Middleton, Wisc., started the candy buy-back program in 2007. It has expanded from 300 dentists in the first year to approximately 1,500 participants in 2011. Dentist offices buy candy for an average price of $1 per pound, then ship the candy to Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that delivers care packages to troops overseas.

Care packages allow troops a break from the highly stressful life of being stationed abroad, according to Bret Moore, a former Army psychologist and author of “Wheels Bound: Adjusting to Life After Deployment.” The packages allow troops to reconnect to life back home.

“If you look back at all the wars, it’s a big issue or a big deal for [troops] to get letters from home,” Moore said. “It helps bridge that 12,000-mile gap that our [troops] are dealing with right now.”

When Moore was deployed for almost two-and-a-half years, he said care packages were the highlight of his week. He said he received one approximately every other week from family, friends and various organizations.

“Halloween is a holiday that most people like to observe with their children and in my experience, it helps keep [troops] connected,” Moore said of the candy-filled packages.

Operation Gratitude received 250,000 pounds of candy last year, according to the organization’s founder, Carolyn Blashek. When the candy arrives at the Van Nuys, Calif.-based organization, volunteers fill packages with toiletries, entertainment items and personal letters. They use the treats in place of foam peanuts or bubble wrap to stuff the packages.

Troops have written to the charitable organization about the impact of the care packages. In one letter, a member of the military said he and his squad members pass the candy out to local children in exchange for information.

“We give [the local children] candy and toys, and they give us the location for [improvised explosion devices],” said a serviceman in a letter to Operation Gratitude.

The program not only saves lives, but it can also prevent cavities. At Westend Dental, 1170 W. Armitage Ave., kids pick their favorite 14 pieces of candy and donate the rest, according to Tracy Zander, marketing manager for Westend Dental. This allows them one snack per day for the first two weeks of November.

At Dentistry for Kids, 4801 W. Peterson Ave., donators receive a gold Sacagawea dollar in return for each pound of sweets donated. The office will be handing out the gold coins for the rest of November. In 2010, the office received approximately 100 pounds of candy, and by Nov. 1, the practice had already exceeded 2010’s total, according to dentist Cissy Furusho.

“I don’t know how good [the children] are feeling about giving away their candy, but they know that it’s going somewhere better to someone who can’t trick-or-treat,” Furusho said.

She said the practice doesn’t gain anything monetarily from partaking in the program—just a good feeling. They actually lose money when they hand out gold coins to patients and pay to ship the candy to California, Furusho added.

After parting ways with their sweets, children are encouraged to write letters to the troops that will receive their candy, Blashnek said. Operation Gratitude gathers the letters and candy and ships them to military personnel halfway across the world.

“Getting a care package is a huge morale booster,” Moore said. “I think it’s really neat when [troops] can feel part of Halloween.”