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Have a Successful Trunk-or-Treat Event

Updated on August 23, 2017

"Halloween Tailgating . . . " An alternative to screams and scares.

Not everyone thinks it's "fun to be scared!"

In recent years, a growing trend among churches and schools has been to offer an alternative to all the traditional chills and thrills of Halloween: the Trunk-or-Treat. Obviously a variation of the term Trick-or-Treat, this event is just what it sounds like . . . going from trunk to trunk instead of door to door. Maybe your children are too young to be exposed to anything scary or gory. Maybe they are old enough to tell you that they don't want to have nightmares until Christmas! Or maybe you are like me, and you prefer not to celebrate anything unpleasant or evil. Trunk-or-Treating at your church or school is a great way to celebrate without being spooked.

Roaming the streets after dark is not as safe as it used to be. Collecting candy from perfect strangers is never a good idea, either. But thanks to the Trunk-or-Treat concept, your children can still wear their costumes and collect all the candy they want without endangering themselves. Parents and/or church members park their cars in the parking lot, decorate their trunks or tailgates with seasonal (but not scary) items, and hand out candy to the children who come by, just as if they are handing out candy at the front door! Larger events may have additional activities going on, as well, such as concerts, jump castles or games.

When you advertise, though, don't forget to tell people, "No scary or gory costumes, please!"

Are you in a church, school, or organization that would like to throw a Trunk-or-Treat event this year? Here are some pointers to help you plan.

(Image from

Try some HAPPY Halloween tailgating décor!

You can't go wrong with crepe streamers and balloons. Are you in doubt about whether a certain item is too scary to use for your event? Stick with basics.

Need Permits?

Check with your local municipal and county offices to make sure that you are within the law. Are there local laws about gatherings in your area? Some towns have rules about traffic, noise levels, or how many cars or people can gather in one place on particular nights of the week. Do you need any permits to hold a function like a Trunk-or-Treat in your parking lot? Will your event be open to the public, or is it a closed event for only your group? These will be questions you are asked to consider when applying for any event permit.

Scheduling and Set-up

Map out the grounds first, and decide where you will have the Trunk-or-Treating occur. The area where you have any activities such as jump castles or bobbing for apples should be adjacent without a need for children to cross streets to get to the activities from the Trunk-or-Treat area.

Don't forget to consider lighting. Visit your location after dark and set up floodlights in different spots to see where they should go. You will want the entire area to be well-light.

Notify all the parents or members of your group of the time when they will be able to drive in and park their cars on the night of the event. Make it clear that once they are in the area and parked, they will need to plan to stay until the event is over (short of an emergency). Once all the cars are in place, block off the area with yellow tape or rope so that no additional cars can drive through.

Some folks like to take tailgating food to a Trunk-or-Treat and share with friends. Ask members to sign up to bring different foods so that kids and parents have something besides Tootsie Rolls to eat!

You will also want to make sure you have ample trash bins and recycling bins.

Contact Public Safety

Put your local police, EMS, and fire departments on notice about your event. Again, check your local laws...depending on the size of your event, you may be required to hire some off-duty public safety officers to be present at your event. Even if that is not required, it is still a good idea to have on-site security and paramedics who are devoted to seeing that the fun stays safe.

Behrens 7 35-Gallon Round Steel Tub
Behrens 7 35-Gallon Round Steel Tub

Bob for Apples! A tub like this one is perfect.


Seek Counsel . . .

If you have never hosted an event like this before, contact local churches and ask if there is someone there who would be willing to give you five minutes of their time to advise you on this topic. Ask them specific questions such as:

1. Do you have an event planning checklist you would be willing to share with me?

2. What do you think made your event successful in the past?

3. What problems have you encountered in the past? (Running out of space in the parking lot? Not enough advertising? Not enough volunteers to man the games and bounce castles?)

Don't forget to thank them for their time, invite them to your event, and take them a small token of your appreciation like a coffee shop gift card!

Additional Activities - Here are a few ideas.

Try to appeal to a variety of ages. Think about toddlers, teens, and everything in between.

1. Concert going on at the same time. Give a local band a chance! (Again, check for local noise ordinances, etc)

2. Bounce castles.

3. Hayride (if your parking lot/area is conducive).

4. Games where players can win small prizes.

5. Costume contests.

6. Storytime for little ones, where reader dons a costume appropriate to the book. You can also get some theatrically-oriented teens to take part by acting out the story in costumes.

7. Chili cook-off, best apple pie contest, etc.

8. Bonfire/toasting marshmallows.

Driveway Games All Weather Corntoss Bean Bag  Game - White
Driveway Games All Weather Corntoss Bean Bag Game - White

Cornhole! Definitely a favorite, if you want some popular outdoor games.


Adult costumes that won't scare anyone!

Here are a few costume ideas that will not make any of the kiddos cry:

1. Fairy Tale characters

2. Kids show characters (like Curious George, SuperWhy, Minnie Mouse, Dora the Explorer)

3. Favorite Historical Characters (Napoleon, Joan of Arc)

4. Food Items (Hot dog, Cupcake)

Been Trunk-or-Treating?

Did you like it?

See results

What are your favorite non-scary costumes?

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    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 16 months ago from South Carolina

      6pm is a good start time, and you definitely want to have the cars come early and already have things set up before the event starts. I would recommend having the cars arrive and start setting up anywhere from an hour to half an hour ahead.

    • profile image

      Miriam 2 years ago

      We are planning to have a truck or treat at our church this year for the first time.... What time do you have the event start at, do you have the cars come earlier to set up?

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      @MJ Martin: Those are definitely some classic and non-scary ideas! Snoopy and Casper were both favorites of mine when I was a child.

    • MJ Martin profile image

      MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose 5 years ago from Washington State

      peanuts gang and friendly ghosts

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      @OhMe: It is fun when everyone dresses up - especially all in the same theme! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      @anonymous: Yes, it is fun, isn't it?! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      We do this at our church. It's a lot of fun. And I am all for making it safer for the kids.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Our church does a Trunk or Treat every year and it is so much fun for the whole family. Some families all come dressed up and are so cute.