Next Halloween Feed A Child’s Mind, Not Their Sweet-Tooth

By Melissa McKenzie

Rebecca Morgan once had a problem with consuming too many Halloween treats. Like most, she would buy a huge bag of candy at the beginning of October. By the 31st, she found herself purchasing another, and when the trick-or-treating festivities were over, there were always leftovers. She began searching for an alternative – one that would spare her waistline and give kids something they could enjoy longer than the minute it took to consume a piece of chocolate. While at a library books sale Morgan noticed she could buy a large stack of Little Golden Books for a nominal fee. It was in that moment lightning struck: What if she passed out books instead of candy?

Although Morgan thought some children would be unreceptive of her “brain candy” idea, and a few adults told her she would ruin Halloween, she persisted, and in 1995 doled out used, age-appropriate books at her Willow Glen home. The response was overwhelming.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the kids at my house were excited …. They skipped down my sidewalk screaming, ‘Mommy, Mommy I got a book,’” she said.

After six years of providing books at her home, Morgan took the concept into the community by starting the non-profit, Books for Treats. In 2001, the organization participated in Willow Glen’s Trick or Treat on the Avenue and Morgan estimates 1,500 books were handed out.

Morgan said the turning point in the organization’s growth, however, was when she took a chance and reached out to the author of the Luann comic strip, Greg Evans, in 2009.

“I’m sort of an out of the box thinker, and for a year I noticed Luann was reading books to the children at the library … I wrote to [Evans] in July and I said I noticed this, would you be willing to have Luann give books at Halloween? He said, ‘I love the idea but I’ve already written the strips for this year.’”

The next day he called her and said he had rewritten the strip to include the idea. Morgan, not wanting to pass up an opportunity, took initiative and asked if he would include the Books for Treats URL within the comic. He agreed, and the week the strip ran, the Book for Treats website had about 60,000 page views.

Morgan still gives out books at home on Halloween evening and at the Willow Glen event during the day.

This year, she said the organization provided approximately 6,000 books to local children. While Trick or Treat on the Avenue is the only Books for Treats event she oversees, other local organizations have latched onto the concept. The Campbell Rotary club took ownership of Campbell’s downtown Halloween event and San Jose’s Japantown and Children’s Discovery Museum also participate.

It has even grown beyond Silicon Valley, with groups and individuals across the country and in Canada participating. Morgan said her cousin in Wichita began giving out books this year, giving kids the option of choosing a book or treat. Because of the frigid weather, only 22 children knocked on her door, but 15 chose a book over candy. She also said Books for Treats now has a partnership with another non-profit to buy remainder books from publishers at deeply discounted rates so every book handed out at the Willow Glen event is new.

“It’s a lot of work … we do it to see the delight in the children’s faces plus the parent’s faces,” said Morgan, who hopes the organization will continue to grow and every community across the country will have a Books for Treats event.

“I think that it would be a really cool thing to have Books for Treats in every neighborhood in San Jose or Santa Clara County,” she said. “Already our education level is one of the highest in the country per capita and I think it would be a good example to set for other places.”

For more information on how to get involved or set up and event, visit www.booksfortreats.org.