The recent announcement that there would be no candy handed out at Anoka Halloween’s Grand Day Parade left a sour taste in the Anoka City Council’s mouth.
The council is lobbying against that decision and Monday unanimously agreed to ask that the nearly 100-year-old tradition continue.
According to representatives of Anoka Halloween, the decision was made for safety reasons. As crowds have grown, so have the challenges to keeping people safe.
The top concern is children darting out into the parade to grab candy, putting themselves at risk for being hit by a vehicle.
“Kids and excitement can add up to danger, so I can understand the concern on the part of the Halloween Committee,” Council Member Carl Anderson said. “But we just have to do something. To change the makeup of that parade at this point in our parade career … would be detrimental to the whole event.”
While there have been no incidents, there have been close calls, said City Manager Greg Lee.
Council Members Jeff Weaver, Brian Wesp and Mark Freeburg also said they wanted to see the parade tradition of handing out candy continue.
The nine-day Halloween festival is run by volunteers with Anoka Halloween Inc., but it is strongly supported by the city’s public safety and public works departments.
Since it was announced two weeks ago, the candy ban has drawn statewide and national attention and considerable backlash.
For the past 10 years, Liz McFarland has volunteered as Anoka Halloween’s parade coordinator, marshalling the Light up the Night and Grand Day parades, along with the Big Parade of Little People.
“The great thing is we’ve grown the parade attendance twofold,” McFarland said. “But we’ve outgrown the business plan.”
An estimated 40,000 people line the route for the Grand Day Parade.
More people means more safety risks and the need for additional volunteers to handle crowd control.
“I do want to bring candy back, but we have to figure out a way to be safe,” McFarland said. “It is not fun to see kids come close to being hit by a car.”
She called her committee’s decision to pull candy from the parade “tragically sad.” But until a solution is found, she stands by the decision to pull candy from the parade.
Both the city and Anoka Halloween have committed to working together to find a solution. This could include new rules for handing out candy and added security along the parade route.
Mayor Phil Rice called Anoka Halloween’s decision a wake-up call to the community.
“We’ll rally the people and help to get what it takes,” Rice told McFarland and other members of Anoka Halloween. “We take seriously your concerns about safety.”
Rice said stern warnings are needed to those who hand out candy that it needs to get to the curb, not tossed out on the street.
“And we have to have people patrolling that,” Rice said, along with volunteers to get the candy that does get dropped on the street out to the curb.
The letter sent by the city council also calls on Anoka Halloween to remove the restriction that keeps children younger than 12 from walking in the Grand Day Parade.
McFarland said that restriction was put in place a few years ago to address kids as young as 6 or 7 years old who were handing out candy.
They weren’t getting it out safely to the spectators, and they weren’t able to keep up with the pace of the parade on the 1.5 mile route.