Duke Medicine exchanges Halloween candy for market vouchers
Nov. 02, 2013 @ 06:46 PM

The piles of licorice, Hershey’s bars and Tootsie Rolls that families have stockpiled at home since Halloween can now be transformed into farm-fresh, local produce.

This Saturday and again on Nov. 9, the Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles Program, a children’s obesity prevention and treatment program, is collecting Halloween candy, the trophies of a successful neighborhood sweep, and exchanging the sugary pounds for farmers’ market vouchers. Every pound of candy will be exchanged for a $2 voucher.

The Duke group will be at the Durham Farmers’ Market along Foster Street and Carrboro Farmers’ Market along West Main Street from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 9.

On Saturday, Julia Wacker, the Healthy Lifestyles Program director of community outreach, and her 13-month-old son, Silas, stood next to a big blue bucket, waiting to fill it with sweets. Duke volunteers passed out little stress balls to children as they walked by with their parents. The team was set up between a man playing the fiddle and Hope Animal Rescue’s puppy pens.

“Kids coming to my house, it was about the amount,” Wacker said of Halloween. “It was kind of a competition.”

She passed out erasers, pencils and stickers at her house, an alternative to the candy craze, but wouldn’t go as far as handing out toothbrushes.

“We’re not the candy police. It’s totally fine for kids to have candy, just in moderation,” she said. This is “a fun way of getting kids to pick out something they’ve never tried.”

Mothers walking by and commented that they have way too many sweets left at home. A little girl stopped in front of the bucket and said if she leaves Halloween candy for the “Candy Fairy” at home, she receives a toy.

Across from Duke Medicine’s setup was Lil’ Farm from Timberlake. Underneath their tent, vegetables from bunches of crisp carrots to baskets of sweet bell peppers, cascaded in a leafy waterfall.

“They’re just so beautiful, these beautiful, fresh produce,” Wacker said. Many of their low-income program participants have never experienced the farmers’ market, she said, and this initiative is another way for them to give it a try.

“We were thinking we could trade our vegetables for some of the candy,” said George O’Neal with Lil’ Farm. He waltzed up in a psychedelic disco jumpsuit, blonde wig and duck hat, his post-Halloween costume.

The candy collected Saturday and Nov. 9 will be used in arts council holiday gingerbread house creations and by fire departments that pass out treats during parades.

Last year, they held the candy drive in the clinic and sent the goodies to troops overseas. But with the military cracking down on fitness and the reeling expense of shipping, they decided to find alternative ways to give back.

Emily Smiley, a first-year Duke Divinity School student, was volunteering Saturday at the farmers’ market. She works on Sundays with the Kohl’s Bull City Fit program at the Edison Johnson Recreation Center.

The after-school program through the Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles partnership stresses not only physical fitness, but also peer support and a safe space for kids. The Kohl’s program also supported the farmers’ market candy drives.

Smiley said helping out with the candy drive is just part of her job, which normally involves swimming sessions and extreme games of follow-the-leader with children.

“I think this is going to grow,” she said of Duke’s candy exchange. “I don’t think today is the goal. I think the next few years are the goal.”