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At a glance: United States of America

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF celebrates 60 years of 'kids helping kids'

'A Halloween Story: The Trial of Sergeant Bill'

© US Fund for UNICEF
Mary Emma Allison, co-founder of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, with her children Mary Jean, Monroe and Mickey in the early 1950s.

NEW YORK, USA, 29 October 2010 – This year marks the 60th anniversary of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, one of UNICEF’s most widely recognized campaigns in the United States. In honour of this anniversary, we’ve opened up the radio vaults and found this classic: ‘A Halloween Story: The Trial of Sergeant Bill.’

AUDIO: Listen now

It’s the tale of a small-town police officer who’s worn out by years of working on Halloween night – a night of rowdy behaviour and mischief, as far as he’s concerned.  Can his family, with the help of UNICEF, teach him to love Halloween again?

The story was produced by UN Radio in partnership with UNICEF in 1957, at a time when the United Nations employed the voices of celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper for radio dramas and reports promoting its mission.

Experiencing history firsthand

“The entire collection of UN Radio classics gives listeners, and the general world public, a unique free access to valuable primary historical sources that are unavailable elsewhere,” explained Ben Malor, Chief Executive Producer of UN Radio.

© US Fund for UNICEF
The Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF coin-collection box.

“These sources include recordings of historic moments in the world and at the United Nations,” he added. “It allows listeners to experience history firsthand through sound.”

UN Radio was launched in 1946 to help fulfill the General Assembly’s mandate to “promote to the greatest possible extent an informed understanding of the work and purpose of the United Nations among the peoples of the world.”

Decorated milk cartons

UNICEF and Halloween have long been associated. A Presbyterian minister, Clyde Allison, and his wife, Mary Emma, started Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF in 1950, in Bridesburg, Pennsylvania. The original idea was to make Halloween more meaningful for children by collecting a ‘treat’ for themselves, as well as one for children in other countries. The original benefactors were to be children in post-war Europe who were in need of basics like shoes and soap.

© US Fund for UNICEF
US children collect coins for UNICEF in the 1960s.

By 31 October 1950, the Allisons had decided that UNICEF would be a worthy recipient of this act of giving. On that Halloween, Mary Emma and her children, along with friends and congregants from their church, went door to door asking for donations for UNICEF.

The original campaign raised $17, collected in decorated milk cartons and then sent to children overseas. A few years later, churches and schools adopted the practice and the US Committee for UNICEF (now known as the US Fund for UNICEF) institutionalized what has become a Halloween tradition.

Kids helping kids

To date, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has raised a total of almost $160 million as one of UNICEF’s most recognizable campaigns. Young Trick-or-Treaters no longer use empty milk cartons but, instead, carry orange change boxes emblazoned with UNICEF’s logo.

“Times have changed, but kids have not,” said US Fund Marketing Manager Maria Choi. “They are as committed as ever to improving the lives of their peers around the world. Just as they have for generations, America’s kids will Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, and from this we hope that kids learn how raising money for other kids around the world can save children’s lives.”

As the campaign celebrates 60 years, it also mourns a loss. Sadly, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF co-founder Mary Emma Allison, 93, died this week at home, surrounded by her family. UNICEF will always remember this kind and generous woman.




UNICEF Radio opens the vaults and digs out a UN-UNICEF Radio classic for Halloween, from 1957.
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