Not trick-or-treating over coronavirus? Gainesville still has Halloween fun

Emilee Geist

Danielle Ivanov
 |  Special to The Sun

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In a state with the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, local residents are still finding ways to safely celebrate Halloween during the pandemic. From trunk-or-treating to costume photoshoots, Alachua County residents, students and businesses have come up with alternative new thrills to bring smiles to everyone’s faces this last week of October.

The big question on every kid and parent’s mind right now is will trick-or-treating still be a thing? In short, yes it will be, but definitely different from years past.

Popular neighborhoods like northeast Gainesville’s Duckpond area have asked residents not to participate in typical face-to-face and door-to-door candy gathering to avoid long lines and bottle-necking that could potentially mass-spread COVID-19. 

“Honestly, what we’re all most afraid of is the crowding that will happen that puts everybody in way too close proximity,” said Ashley MacSuga-Gage, president of the Duckpond Neighborhood Association.

Duckpond alone gets over 1,000 kids a year, she said, and many parents voiced concerns to her at the September neighborhood meeting over social distancing with that many visitors. While the association can’t stop anyone from celebrating, it has recommended suggestions for safe alternatives.

MacSuga-Gage said putting up decorations is one fun way to be festive and COVID-19 safe. Houses that are giving out candy night-of should leave their lights on, while houses that aren’t should be dark. And in addition, she said, parents can buy candy to keep at home and open inside with just their kids.

“It’s a really busy, happy time for all of us,” the mother of two said. “Our decision to not have Halloween the way that we’ve always had it this year is a decision to keep others in the community safe from the virus.”

The city of Gainesville has also listed guidelines for safe trick-or-treating online. The Facebook graphic, posted Oct. 18, states people should wash their hands before touching candy, wear face masks, individually bag candy, give it away outdoors and avoid direct contact with visitors.

Halloween on the Green

Gainesville’s Parks Recreation & Cultural Affairs Department and Ironwood Golf Course are partnering this year to set up a coronavirus-safe, movie-watching, pumpkin-carving, dance-performing, costume-comparing and candy-devouring Halloween event. Saturday night from 6 to 9:30, families can come to the golf course for a drive-through, contactless candy distribution or to set up a blanket on the green and watch Danscompany of Gainesville’s Thriller Trilogy performance and the holiday film “Hocus Pocus.” 

Social distancing and face masks are required for all.

“Masks and halloween kind of go together, in my opinion,” said Rosanna Passaniti, spokeswoman for the city. “I think this is an opportunity for those who might even be a little adverse to wearing masks to get in the spirit.”

Passaniti said the city and the Florida Department of Children and Families have held Halloween hangouts at Depot Park for the past four years. Fun games, trick-or-treating, face painting and even firefighter appearances marked the event. But the program had to be updated this year without up-close interaction to meet safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“At the end of the day, we just want everybody to have a good time and to be safe as well.” Passaniti said.

University of Florida events

Everyone knows college students like to party, but even Gators have to social distance on campus this year. Instead of a giant orange bouncy house and accompanying cotton candy machine like last year, UF has a mix of online and in-person contests and concerts to celebrate Halloween, according to its upcoming activities page.

Halloweek, hosted by the Reitz Programming Board — Thursday, from noon to 2 p.m., a table will be set up outside the Reitz Union where students can pick up Halloween-themed take-home craft kits to make and submit for judging over the weekend. The following Monday, Nov. 2, winners will be announced and rewarded for categories including the scariest, most creative and best-crafted designs. 

Halloween Spooktacular Concert, hosted by the UF Carillon Studio — Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the UF Carillon Studio will live stream a musical performance online at bit.ly/carillonhalloween. The show will later be uploaded to Facebook as well.

Ghouls & Gators yoga, hosted by Off Campus Life — On Thursday from 6-7 p.m., a costume contest and yoga session hybrid will be held on the North Lawn. Prizes will be given to contest winners, and yoga mats will be provided.

UF versus Missouri — While it doesn’t carry a Halloween theme, the Gators will take on the University of Missouri football team at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Decoration drive-by

Many houses and streets are putting up spook-tacular Halloween decorations. Here are a few of the best-decked places in town.

• Main Street, downtown Gainesville

• Main Street, Alachua

• Tioga neighborhood, behind the Tioga Town Center shopping and dining plaza

• Hazel Heights and Springtree neighborhoods, off Northwest 39th Avenue and Northwest 34th Street

• 3451 NW 52nd Avenue, home of giant Paul Bone-yan

• Longleaf Village and Mentone neighborhood, southwest Gainesville

• Duckpond neighborhood, northeast Gainesville

Brandi Pickering and her two sons, 5-year-old Sebastian Harmatz and 2-year-old Ezra Harmatz, have been celebrating Halloween this year by dressing up and driving around Gainesville in the afternoons once Sebastian’s virtual classes end and trying to find as many spooky decorations as possible.

Typically, Pickering said, the trio would visit hayrides and corn mazes and go trick-or-treating. But right now, the local family has to be extra cautious not to contract COVID-19 so Jonathan Harmatz, their disabled husband and father, doesn’t get sick. 

He has cerebral palsy, a movement and coordination disability, and underdeveloped lungs that make him high risk, Pickering said. So any holiday activities have to be socially distanced.

“It’s definitely been different this year. Anything we can do to get out of the house is great,” the stay-at-home mom said. “We’ve been staying home doing everything we can to avoid COVID … so the kids are even excited for a car ride.”

Pic-or-treat

One new Gainesville resident, Carli Sanders, is giving out free Halloween family photoshoots this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so kids can still put on their favorite costumes and take fun outdoor pictures with their parents and siblings.

Sanders, who moved to Gainesville four months ago, is a professional wedding, maternity and family photographer from Alabama. 

The 24-year-old said she got the idea for “pic-or-treat” after seeing a bunch of moms posting on Facebook about how sad their kids were to have nothing to dress up for this Halloween. 

“Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I remember how excited I was as a kid to get dressed up and go get candy,” Sanders said. “I kept hearing everyone talking about how Halloween was cancelled and kids couldn’t trick-or-treat. I just wanted to do something fun where they could still get dressed up.”

For families who contact Sanders through her website, carlinicolephotography.com, and reserve a slot, pictures will be taken on the grassy courtyard of Celebration Pointe. The photographer said she will wear a face mask and a pumpkin headband to get in the spirit, and she will stay 6 feet away from her models at all times.

Parents who take the extra step to donate any amount of money to Sanders’ Ronald McDonald House “pic-or-treat” event page will receive free digital copies of their photos via email, she said. Everyone who attends, regardless of a donation, will also get a small candy-filled goody bag. 

Pumpkin patches, haunted hayrides and more

Rounding out the week are a handful of the county’s usual haunts.

There are three church-run pumpkin patches in town: Buy a Pumpkin, Feed a Child from Gainesville Church of God at 7003 NW 39th Ave., Abiding Savior Lutheran Youth Pumpkin Patch from Abiding Savior Lutheran Church and School at 9700 W. Newberry Road, and Alachua’s Pumpkin Patch from the First United Methodist Church of Alachua at 14805 NW 140th St.

The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is open Halloween afternoon from noon to 5 p.m. Children wearing costumes get in for free instead of the $7.50 admission, and there will be trick-or-treating throughout the museum’s different exhibits.

And for fans of the holiday’s horror, monsters, evil clowns and jump scares, there are four farms that switch from family friendly by day to frightening by night.

Hodge Farm, located at 20015 W. Newberry Road, is open Friday from 5-11 p.m. and Saturday from 3-11 p.m. It boasts a haunted hayride, haunted house and chainsaw-infested Newberry corn maze. Kids 10 and under get in for $10, and adults get in for $15.

Rodger’s Farm, located at 3831 NW 156th Ave., is open Friday from 5-10 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is a bounce house and obstacle course, human hamster wheels, sunflower patch, train and hay rides, a corn maze and a spooky trail that gets haunted after 8. Adults and kids 3-12 get in for $10.

Peanut Patch & Corn Maze, located at 8656 SW 75th St., is open Friday from 5-11 p.m. and Saturday from 3-11 p.m. Like the others, this farm has hayrides and train rides, an obstacle course, a haunted house and a haunted maze. Kids 4-10 get int for $10, and adults get in for $15.

Hollow Oaks Corn Maze, located at 18005 NW 190th Ave., is the one farm open past Halloween. Its hours, Fridays from 5-11 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 2-6 p.m., run through Nov. 8. There’s a big corn maze for brave visitors that’s haunted at 10 and a mini maze for kids with trick-or-treating from 5-8. Hollow Oaks also has a haunted hayride, bonfire and free glow sticks for kids. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for kids ages 4-10.

Sadie Dajka, 4-year Gainesville resident and flight attendant, said she took her Hungarian husband, Adam, to Peanut Patch & Corn Maze this year so he could experience Halloween for the first time. They walked through the haunted house, she said, and got their fill of terror for the season.

“My husband got scared a couple times, but I think he was having more fun watching me scream my lungs out,” the 30-year-old said.

The couple lives alone with four cats, but Dajka said she and her husband still took COVID-19 precautions at the farm by wearing masks outdoors and in the haunted house. Other visitors did the same while some came unmasked, she said, but she wasn’t too worried because only two groups of people spaced halfway apart could go through the haunted house at a time.

“I definitely am very hyper aware of the whole COVID situation. I’m still living my life, but I live it in a mask,” she said. “It was a great experience.”

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