At the end of this month, little goblins and ghosties will be canvassing homes with their goodie bags for Halloween candy. When I was growing up, one of our neighbors always invited her little visitors into her living room for cookies and cider, and another always treated us to her special frosted cupcakes. Those days are gone, though. Now, packaged candy and sealed treats are the norm. 

The nuns required that we dress up as our favorite saint for Halloween, and it was required that we collect something for someone less fortunate as we filled small bags with candy and treats. 

I haven’t recently experienced children asking for donations to good causes at Halloween, but it used to happen once in a while, especially with middle school students. Maybe that tradition should be resurrected. 

A 1961 article from the Clinton Herald, part of my sister-in-law Susan Gilroy Sprague’s memorabilia, credits six Lost Nation schoolgirls with starting a Halloween collection for less fortunate children that grew into the widespread national tradition of collecting for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).  

Years ago at Halloween time, Susan says, she was sitting in her Grandpa’s rocker in the old Gilroy home place in Lost Nation, thinking about how at 14, she felt too old to trick-or-treat. She wanted to do something to help people instead, and she asked her mother, Betty Gilroy, for advice. 

Betty suggested she talk to Father Harold O’Connor of Sacred Heart Church for some ideas. Fr. O’Connor suggested collecting for CROP, a Christian relief overseas program. Susan called some friends, and that Halloween the group trick-or-treated for donations for CROP instead of for candy. 

The following year, the Lost Nation churches agreed to take over the collection, and that’s when collecting for UNICEF was born. UNICEF was already an organization, but after the impetus from the six Lost Nation girls, the idea of collecting money at Halloween for children went nationwide and grew into a big deal, still part of the United Nations efforts for children. 

The original group included, besides Susan, Dona Waters Bender, and Haidi Von Essen Burmeister from one school grade; and Karmen Ales Frandsen, Caroline Keller Williams, and Lorna Mae Smith from another grade. 

Here is the Clinton Herald article from 1961 with the headline“LOST NATION SETS PACE FOR NATION”

LOST NATION — The UNICEF “trick or treat” idea that has spread like wildfire throughout the United States and Canada unofficially was sparked 11 years ago in Lost Nation. A Wildensburg, Pa., newspaper, announcing its UNICEF drive for Halloween eve, said “churches throughout the country will emulate an idea which seems to have originated in 1950 with a group of churches in the little town of Lost Nation, Iowa.

Local citizens recall that in 1950 a group of local youths “felt cheap” about the conventional trick-or-treat candy idea and expressed a desire that something more worthwhile might come out of Halloween festivities.

Among them were Susan Gilroy, Caroline Keller, Lorna Mae Smith, Dona Waters, Haidi Von Essen, and Karmen Ales. One of them hit on the idea of asking for treats for some charitable organization. They sought the counsel of local pastors who were pleased with the young people’s thoughtfulness. One clergyman suggested that nickels and dimes collected might be sent to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

This answered the youths’ desire. Their first UNICEF campaign was successful. The new idea was publicized in newspapers and other media across the country.

People everywhere liked Lost Nation’s way of Halloween-ing so well that 11,000 communities in the United States alone staged similar fund drives this season. Two-and-a-half million young people took part.” — Clinton Herald, 1961