MODESTO -- Halloween long has been associated with scary things. Before today's gore-dripping costumes came on the scene, there were reports of tainted candy, apples with razor blades or needles, questionable neighbors. Recent reports call tainted treats an urban legend, but add that trick-or-treating children are hurt or killed every Halloween from auto accidents.
A couple of decades ago, churches began offering alternative events, such as harvest festivals and country fair themes, where kids could still don family-friendly costumes and get candy, but in a safe and ghoul-free environment.
This year, thousands of children are expected to attend area church-sponsored events.
Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto is offering its first Halloween alternative, a "Wonkalicious Chocolate Fest," for children from pre-schoolers to sixth graders and their families. They are asking the children to not wear costumes for the event.
"There will be candy and games, but we're trying to stay away from the whole Halloween thing," explained Terry Delgado, co-director of Operations Kidspace at the church. "Unfortunately, even if we say only certain kinds of costumes, we lose control over that. We want the kids to come and have fun and take a positive stand on what we feel is a kind of dark holiday."
Delgado, 50, said he went trick-or-treating as a child, as did his own children, now in their 20s.
"For me, it was dress up like cowboys and pirates and princesses," he said. "I was in a Halloween store the other day, and they had zombie costumes for babies in diapers, and there's no absence of blood. Where there was an innocence before, there's just a lot of darkness to the holiday. It's not something I choose to endorse, especially for children."
Mark Bejsovec, who oversees this year's Trunk or Treat program at Big Valley Grace Community Church, said his church isn't limiting what kind of costumes the kids wear. Most of them will dress in family-friendly outfits, he said, but "every year we'll have people show up with a werewolf mask or blood on their costumes. We're not going to be offended or chase these people away."
Instead, he said, the whole idea is to offer a safe and fun place for kids. Besides the car trunks containing games, candy and other creative offerings, the church will have a police car, ambulance and fire truck on display, a petting zoo with ducks, pigs and other animals, a bounce house and a hay ride featuring bluegrass music and a hilly terrain.
"Community is in our name and we really care about our community," he said. "We want families to come onto our campus and feel welcome. This time on Halloween is a time to open up our doors like a lot of other churches do, without people thinking there's some sort of expectation on them."
Jeremy Oldenburger, associate lead pastor at Shelter Cove Community Church, agreed. His church will hold "OctoberBlest," a night with carnival games, cotton candy, snow cones and a Trunk or Treat area.
"We want to provide a place where kids can be kids without their parents worrying about them," he said. "It's fun for the whole family; we'll have food for parents, food for the little ones and a fun place to hang out."
The 36-year-old said when he came home from trick-or-treating as a child, "my parents had to go through my bag to make sure there was no bad candy or stuff. Parents don't have to do that if they come here."
Many churches are holding Halloween alternative events on Wednesday. Here is a list of some of them:
CHOCOLATE FEST 4-7:30 p.m. Calvary Temple Worship Center, 1601 Coffee Road, Modesto. Costume-free event for children 12 and under. Inflatables, train rides, petting zoo, face painting, food vendors and appearances by Willy Wonka, the Oompa Loompas, Dora the Explorer and Astro and Nova. Free admission; four tickets for $1 for attractions. Free concert with Donnie More and the Power Team. (209) 529-7346.
FALL FUN FAIR 5:30-7:30 p.m., Modesto Covenant Church, 913 Floyd Ave., Modesto. Carnival games, inflatables, face painting, family photo booth, pie eating contest, chili cook-off, plus lots of candy. Family-friendly costumes only. Free; hot dog dinner available for small fee. (209) 527-4110.
TRUNK OR TREAT 5:30-7:30 p.m., Geneva Presbyterian Church, 1229 E. Fairmont Ave., Modesto. Decorated cars filled with candy, plus live music, face painting and snacks. Free. (209) 529-5408.
HARVEST PARTY 6-8:30 p.m., Dutch Hollow Farms, northwest corner of Claribel and Oakdale Road, Modesto. Party by Modesto Christian Reformed Church includes free food, corn maze, trunk-n-treat, etc. Free. (209) 523-1906.
TRUNK OR TREAT 6-8 p.m., Big Valley Grace Community Church, 4040 Tully Road, Modesto. Decorated cars with candy, plus inflatables, live music, food, games; ambulance and fire truck on display. Free. (209) 571-4399, ext. 371.
OCTOBERBLEST 6-8 p.m., Shelter Cove Community Church, 4242 Coffee Road, Modesto. Candy, carnival games, trunk-or-treat, popcorn, cotton candy, bounce house, snow cones, etc. Free. Hot dogs, nachos and bottled water available for $1 each. (209) 567-3200.
TRUNK OR TREAT 6-8 p.m., Harvest Presbyterian Church, 1813 Moffet Road, Ceres. Biblically-themed trunks with candy, games, prizes, hot popcorn, etc. Free. (209) 537-3519.
HULLABALOO 6-9 p.m., Neighborhood Church, 5901 Sisk Road (Modesto Christian School campus). Carnival booths, pony rides, hay rides, inflatables, maze, candy, etc. Free. (209) 529-8900.
TRUNK OR TREAT Dusk (about 6 p.m.), Grace Lutheran Church and School, 617 W. Orangeburg Ave., Modesto. Safe and fun event for families with games and popcorn. Free. (209) 522-8890.