NEW BRITAIN – It was all about zombies and monsters for little Gavin Haynes, who helped hand out candy at Westfarms’ inaugural Mobile Mall-o-Ween trick-or-treat event on Halloween.
Fully decked out in a zombie costume, the 4-year-year was all energy and enthusiasm early Saturday morning as he grabbed handful after handful of candies to give out to other children.
“This is fun!” said Gavin.
Cars filled with families dressed up in costumes drove along the “Boo-levard” where bags of candy and surprises were given out by mall retailers and local sponsors. The aim of the event was for the children to still be able to go trick or treating in a safe space and for the mall to give back to the community. Between the event’s start time at nine and ending at noon, there were over 880 children in 500 cars that drove through.
“We’re very grateful that the mall did this,” said Nora Pasco, a New Britain nurse technician who brought her son, Ezben, 6, dressed as a goose. “I work at the hospital and seen firsthand how scary the pandemic has been. To have this event happen is simply amazing,” she said.
Westfarms Mall launched a “Community First” initiative that will be active throughout the holiday season, kicking off with the Halloween weekend. “This is our way of saying thank you to the community for supporting the mall during the pandemic,” said Amanda Sirica, Westfarms spokesperson. “When you buy from local businesses, you’re supporting all the employees and workers, which is so important. And the Mall-o-Ween gives everyone a chance to experience a safe trick-or-treating.”
All mall-wide safety guidelines were applied to the event, including mandatory face masks, social distancing, and sanitizing. There were 10 booths of retailers and sponsors that were all at least six feet apart, all candies were provided by the mall and sanitized, and the actual event was completely contactless with the treats dropped directly into the trick or treater’s bags.
“We wanted to make sure everything was safe for everyone,” said Sirica.
Handling the Pandora Jewelry booth, Maria Haynes, general manager and Bristol resident, said she was really glad that the mall decided to put up an event like the drive-thru.
“The kids aren’t going to be able to go out trick or treating this year so to have this gives them a sense of normalcy,” she said. “I don’t feel safe walking around when you don’t know where everyone has been. So to have a controlled event, parents can be assured that their children are safe while still being able to have a fun time.”
Meghan Winters, who also works at Pandora, agreed. Her son, Ricardo Serrano, 3, handed out candy alongside Gavin and was dressed up as a “cute skeleton.”
“I think this is a good time,” he said shyly. Skittles and Starbursts are his favorites and he said he likes giving out candy with his friend.
Several community partnerships helped make the event happen, including NBC CT, XFINITY and local sponsor Socceropolis.
Milton Ortega, owner of Socceropolis, dribbled soccer balls to entertain the families as they drove by.
“I love doing events like this because it’s a happy thing,” he said. “Especially now, to be able to have a safe alternative to trick-or-treating is really important and it’s just so nice to see all the smiling faces.”
Smiling faces were in abundance throughout the event. For Stacey Warren, who was part of the California Pizza Kitchen team and dressed up as Maleficent, she said she was amazed at how awake and happy the children were in the morning.
“We weren’t sure if anyone was going to show up, but the turnout has been great,” she said. “I’ve always loved this time of the year and I love giving out candy. Because we can’t do it at home, I’m so glad that I can help out here. It’s also nice to see people coming out and dressing up, it helps lift the spirits.”
Spirits were definitely high for Lindsey and Jeff Sepa of Farmington Valley Dance and Music. They were dressed as Mary Poppins and Bert the chimney sweeper while handing out candy.
“It’s really amazing that we’re able to give back at a time like this,” said Lindsey Sepa. “The joy on everyone’s faces makes everything worth it.”
Contact Catherine Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org