Superheroes and creative Lawrence residents hope to save trick-or-treating for local kids

photo by: Contributed photo

Members of the Just Us League will participate in a drive-thru trick-or-treating event from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, at Broken Arrow Park, 2800 Louisiana St.

With candy-delivery contraptions, a safe trick-or-treating map and help from a few superheroes, some Lawrence residents are hoping to save trick-or-treating for kids at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has changed much about their lives.

A nonprofit is partnering with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department for a drive-thru “Reverse Halloween Parade.” One local parent is compiling a list of houses where kids can get candy while practicing social distancing. And many households are going the extra mile to deliver that candy from more than 6 feet away — using slides, chutes, and even a homemade pulley system.

The Reverse Halloween Parade, which will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, is the only trick-or-treating event the city’s Parks and Recreation staff will be putting on this year, and it will use a drive-thru method to deliver candy to as many as 3,000 kids. But the idea for the event came from the founders of the Just Us League, a Lawrence-based nonprofit entertainment group whose members wear comic book character costumes. The entertainers will be teaming up with several other area cosplay groups for the event, which will feature not just superheroes and supervillains, but also Disney princesses and characters from “Ghostbusters,” “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.”

The event will use a one-way loop around Broken Arrow Park to create a drive-thru trick-or-treating system. At the end of the loop, families roll down their car windows, where firefighters and police officers will deliver bags of candy via a slide attached to a fire truck. As families drive slowly through the loop, they can interact through their car windows with about 50 to 75 characters in costume, who will be socially distanced and wearing masks in the center of the loop.

Sarah and Bradley Nottingham, founders of the Just Us League, developed the concept and later partnered with the Parks and Recreation Department for the event. Sarah Nottingham said the goal of the Just Us League is to create and participate in events that have a positive impact on kids. Nottingham’s own daughter has an immune system deficiency, and she said creating a safe event for Halloween was another way to meet the group’s goal.

“We want to do everything that we can to give children a better way of looking at the world,” Nottingham said. “And with how things are going right now, we want to give them a ray of hope, because it’s so different for them.”

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Other residents are adapting their own homes to hand out candy while still staying at least 6 feet away from trick-or-treaters. In the case of one household, a creepy clown is helping along a rope-and-pulley system attached to the front porch.

The porch of Raquan and Roy Hoffer in the 800 block of Walnut Street in North Lawrence is decorated with the usual Halloween standards of fake spiderwebs and orange lights, but this year, there is also a homemade electronic pulley system that sends a wooden box zooming from the porch to the street. The system, which Roy Hoffer made himself, uses an old fishing pole reel powered by an electric drill to bring the box back and forth. Hanging from the candy delivery box is a clown with flashing red eyes, who with the help of the dark and a bit of imagination looks as though he could be the one pushing and pulling the box across the front yard.

Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World Video

Initially, the Hoffers said the idea was to ensure that their grandkids could still celebrate Halloween, but they have since added their house to a local safe trick-or-treating map hoping that other kids can enjoy it as well. They said they will be waiting on their porch with small bags of candy to send out to trick-or-treaters.

“We are looking forward to it,” Roy Hoffer said, adding that kids in the neighborhood are already getting excited. The Hoffers are also planning to set up an old wagon with straw bales in another area of their yard for families to use as a photo backdrop.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

A clown hangs from a wooden box, which with the help of a rope and pulley, will be used to deliver candy to trick-or-treaters at the Hoffer home in the 800 block of Walnut Street in North Lawrence.

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The Hoffers’ house is one of the approximately 100 that will be part of the safe trick-or-treating map that Lawrence resident Kristen Lewetzow-Maxon is compiling. Lewetzow-Maxon said some on the list have rigged up PVC pipes or plastic slides to deliver candy to trick-or-treaters, while others are simply leaving individual grab bags of candy in containers on their porch or driveway.

Lewetzow-Maxon said that Halloween is a major holiday in her family; her own parents met in a haunted house in Kansas City where her dad still works. She said she, her husband and their kids take a family vote to decide on an annual theme — this year they are going as the Addams Family — and sometimes start planning their costumes months ahead of time.

“Halloween is our Christmas,” Lewetzow-Maxon said. “It is our biggest thing of the year.”

She said her family usually goes to the downtown Lawrence trick-or-treating event, but that event, which normally draws thousands of people to downtown, was canceled this year because of restrictions on large gatherings. Lewetzow-Maxon, who with her husband has a blended family of six kids, spoke to the Journal-World amid a busy at-home school day. She said she decided to compile a list of houses handing out candy with precautions to try to preserve a piece of the holiday for her family and others amid the change and chaos kids are going through during the pandemic.

“We’ve already seen signs put in yards that say no trick-or-treaters,” Lewetzow-Maxon said. “Those who want to take their kids to safely trick-or-treat, they aren’t going to know where to go, so I was hoping the map would help.”

Lawrence residents who are distributing candy in a socially distanced way can sign up to be added to the map using an online form that is available on the event’s Facebook page, Lawrence Safe Halloween Trick-or-Treating. Lewetzow-Maxon said right now most of the houses are in northeastern Lawrence, but she is sending the map out to neighborhood organizations and other groups in hopes of getting additional houses throughout the city. She said she plans to export the list of homes to Google Maps around Oct. 25, which will enable the public to view the information in either list or map form as well as any notes residents made about their trick-or-treating setup.

photo by: contributed photo

Kristen Lewetzow-Maxon and her family are pictured at the pumpkin patch.

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Those who want to support the Reverse Halloween Parade can also still do so. Sarah Nottingham said that various businesses throughout town have donated decorations and candy for the event, which is free to attend, and that they continue to collect candy donations so that as many kids as possible can participate.

Roger Steinbrock, marketing supervisor for Parks and Recreation, said that businesses wishing to donate candy for the event can contact him at 785-832-3450. He said the hope is to get 20,000 pieces of candy, as well as some small toys or trinkets to include with the goody bags. Steinbrock said that the Just Us League initially approached the department to ask for a permit, but that the city saw it as a great socially distanced Halloween event and decided to help support it.

“I just saw this as an opportunity to kind of shine some goodness, because we’ve been without a lot of bright spots since March,” Steinbrock said.

To alleviate traffic congestion, Steinbrock said that the city is asking that participants enter and exit Broken Arrow Park, 2800 Louisiana St., using a specific route. To enter the event, motorists should access Louisiana Street from the south via 31st Street and turn right into the park at its entrance. Once completing the loop and exiting the park’s circle drive, participants are asked to turn right onto Louisiana Street, heading north toward 23rd Street.

Bradley Nottingham, who plays Batman for the Just Us League, said the group did about 60 events last year, and that he was looking forward to getting back in costume for the Reverse Halloween Parade.

“We’re excited that people are excited,” he said. “And we just cannot wait to get back out there again.”

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