CATSKILL — Catskill residents are working to make sure that local children don’t miss out on Halloween this year, pandemic or no pandemic.
Hope for Humanity Catskill, spearheaded by Michele Delage, owner of Winkle’s Bakery, will be hosting the Wake the Dead Halloween Haunt from 4-9 p.m. at Dutchman’s Landing.
The event will feature activities including games, a dance party with a DJ, live music and a haunted house.
Catskill homeowners and Halloween enthusiasts also have plans to keep the spirit alive.
COVID-19 has been especially hard on children, Delage said. Delage’s children, ages 6 and 9, have expressed disappointment with the loss of fun activities.
“My daughter said, ‘COVID was OK when I didn’t have to go to school, but it should have went away this summer, all my stuff is getting canceled,’” Delage said.
With the pandemic affecting everything from the water park Zoom Flume to birthday parties, kids had few options this summer, Delage said.
“It’s been really hard on kids,” she said.
Village Trustee Natasha Law, who is assisting with the event, agreed.
“After a spring of remote learning and a summer of social distancing with no county fairs, limited sports and no Zoom Flume, the children need and deserve a little normalcy,” she said.
On Sept. 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced guidelines for low-risk fall activities such as corn mazes, hayrides, pick-your-own fruit and haunted houses. Requirements for these activities include reduced capacity, face coverings, social distancing and frequent sanitizing. Petting zoos are not permitted, according to the guidelines.
“New York state’s amazing outdoor attractions and recreational opportunities are a boon for families and communities during the fall season each year, and we want New Yorkers to be able to enjoy this time with their family responsibly and safely,” Cuomo said. “The new guidance will ensure that these businesses can open to the public, allowing families to enjoy their favorite fall activities while providing a boost for our farming communities and local economies.”
Cuomo said Tuesday he would not ban trick-or-treating.
“I would not ban trick-or-treaters going door-to-door,” Cuomo said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. You have neighbors — if you want to go knock on your neighbor’s door, God bless you and I’m not going to tell you not to. If you want to go for a walk with your child through the neighborhood, I’m not going to tell you [you] can’t take your child to the neighborhood, I’m not going to do that — I’ll give you my advice and guidance, and then you will make a decision what you do that night.”
The Halloween Haunt is being planned with health guidelines — and safety — in mind, Delage said.
The Missing Alchemist Haunted House will be limited to individuals in the same party, Delage said. Masks will be available and hand sanitizer — or the Zombie Virus antidote — Delage said.
“It’s the coronavirus, so we had to do something with zombies,” she said. “It’s been so much fun [to plan]. It’s nice to be able to do something for the community.”
During the Monster Mash dance party from 4:30-5:30 p.m., dancers will be socially distanced, Delage said.
Delage’s first event was the Hope for Humanity Rainbow Pride Parade in August.
“There were so many smiles and dancing feet,” she said. “Everyone followed the rules.”
Law commended Delage and organizer Elliot Matos for their work on the pride parade.
“I’m glad Michele and Elliot have stepped up to organize something fun for the kids,” she said. “After their Hope for Humanity Pride festival, I have no doubt they will do a great job and I will be right here to assist with whatever they need.”
Pieces for games and activities, such as Skeleton Basketball, will be soaked in sanitizing solution, she said. Instead of prizes, the kids will get candy. The children will be able to trick-or-treat at tables set up by local businesses.
The event will actually help to spread trick-or-treaters out, Delage said, adding that Grandview Avenue attracts about 700 kids on Halloween.
“I’ve taken my kids trick-or-treating there,” she said. “It’s crazy. You can’t social distance back there.”
Later in the evening, the tribute band The Deadbeats will perform from 6:30-9 p.m. A selection of food trucks will be in the park, Delage said, as well as a balloon twister and fortune tellers.
Children on the West Coast will not have a typical Halloween. In Los Angeles, Halloween gatherings, events or parties with non-household members are not permitted, indoors or outdoors. Additionally, carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted houses are not permitted.
“Door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, ensure that everyone answering or coming to the door is appropriately masked to prevent disease spread and because sharing food is risky,” according to the guidance released Sept. 9 by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
“Trunk-or-treating,” where children go to car-to-car instead of door-to-door, is also not recommended.
Instead, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health recommends online parties, car parades, going to a drive-in movie theater, decorating homes and yards, going to an outdoor museum to view Halloween-themed art installations and eating Halloween-themed food at an outdoor restaurant.
The fear that similar restrictions could be set in New York spurred Catskill resident Carson Borst to up his game.
“Halloween is bigger than Christmas in my family,” Borst said. “Every year we try to outdo ourselves.”
Borst said his family has spent about $1,000 over the past four years decorating their home on Grandview Avenue.
This year, he is planning an “Addams Family” meets “Beetlejuice” scene, with family members and neighbors in character.
“I’m striving to be the scariest house in town,” Borst said.
Borst recalled that on a morning after Halloween he found an abandoned shoe on his porch.
“We scared a kid right out of his shoe,” he said.
Another year, a neighbor hid in a cage in his yard and would sporadically yell out to children, “Give me your candy!”
“One kid threw his candy at him and ran away,” Borst said.
Traditionally, Borst waits until the day of Halloween to get out his decorations, including a 7-foot werewolf.
“When the bus came in the morning, everyone saw a normal house,” Borst said. “When [my children] were dropped off in the afternoon, this haunted house popped up out of nowhere. I loved hearing the kids screaming and hollering.”
Borst said he believes the successful Catskill Yard Sale Day in June is an example that Halloween can work in the era of COVID-19.
“We take social distancing very seriously,” Borst said, adding that his wife is immunocompromised. “We can present this in a way that everyone stays safe.”
Borst will be taking special precautions for trick or treaters, including setting up a “candy chute,” made out of PVC pipe, to make the process contactless. Additionally, he will have individually wrapped candy bags in a bowl under an ultraviolet light, he said.
In terms of decorations, Borst said he is eyeing some animatronics this year.
The holiday is typically a family affair, and Borst’s children, ages 9, 12 and 19, participate, as well as his mother.
“We’ve even got the dog involved,” he said, adding that the beagle will be Frankenweenie this year.
Borst said his love of Halloween stems from his father, who was a musician.
“Everything was a performance to him,” he said.
For Borst and his family, the show will go on.
Greene County had one active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to the county’s Department of Public Health.
Hope for Humanity Catskill is looking for businesses interested in having booths at the park where children can trick or treat. Candy donations can be dropped off at Winkle’s Bakery or The Juice Branch, Delage said.
Home Depot and Lowe’s have agreed to donate supplies for the event, she said. Law secured a donation of pumpkins, both for decorations and to give to children with a pie recipe, Delage said.
Delage is anticipating that the group will need to raise about $2,000 for the event. For more information, visit Hope for Humanity Catskill’s Facebook page.