Many children look forward to the cold weather; school, sports, snow days and the most fun part of all, Halloween. It’s a time to have fun and overindulge with candy, but this year is different.
This year we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Fear of COVID-19 has put trick-or-treating in jeopardy. Hamlin’s Recreation Department however, have been battling the pandemic while still offering care services and programs to the Hamlin community.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said in September that he will not be cancelling Halloween and trick or treating, but wants to give parents, “my advice and guidance,” before leaving it up to them to decide whether they go trick-or-treating.
Director of Hamlin Recreation Department, Anke Applebaum, and her team have been adjusting to changes amid the pandemic and as a result many had to decide on the safety of trick or treating this year.
“We had heard that normal trick-or-treating activities could become compromised due to the pandemic, so we wanted to be sure that the kids were still able to enjoy something,” said Applebaum.
The department has made sure that the community had a safe Halloween during the pandemic with their new Hamlin Horrid Halloween Drive-Thru event. With the department having to make changes to their 13-year tradition, “Scream Fest” event, they needed some community support to help make this event possible.
“We also have sought out volunteer groups of friends and families who will autonomously create displays for the drive-thru. For them, it will be a different and fun way to celebrate Halloween,” said Applebaum.
Hamlin’s Horrid Halloween Drive-Thru was a change from their usual October event. The department was excited to put on a show of displays that volunteers and sponsors created and participated in.
“We have 10 groups, including the Hamlin Fire Department, who will set up a display AND help with traffic control. That’s a huge help!” said Applebaum.
With many of the programs the department offered having been met with low participation, the event brought many Hamlin community members together.
“Volunteers and sponsors for the event are some of the local businesses, organizations like the friends of Hamlin recreation, and a couple local farms that are donating like Partyka Farms who is donating pumpkins,” said Hamlin’s town clerk and the Recreation Department gymnastics leader, Patty Jo Groenendaal.
The event wouldn’t have been able to happen if the volunteers and sponsors didn’t come together with the department to create such a special event.
“As far as I know we are the only one doing a Halloween drive-thru event. It gives the community something to look forward to, because of COVID-19, a lot of plans have changed in every community. This way we know it’s not going to get cancelled because it follows all the rules and guidelines,” said Groenedaal.
The event provided fun for all that started in the afternoon, where groups were setting up for the event that was scheduled from 7:00PM to 9:00PM. The department also provided pizza with the winning display getting a $100 cash prize along with the Golden pumpkin award.
The event was organized by Anke Applebaum and the department; who collected sponsorships to donate plenty of candy to those who weren’t going door to door trick-or-treating.
“We have therefore been soliciting sponsors since the summer in order to supply us with the necessary amounts of candy and treats needed for the Goodie Bags that we will give to kids,” said Applebaum.
The event was a success, with the department continuing the event an hour past their scheduled closing time. Hamlin’s Scream Fest Facebook page, which showcased the new event, stated that they gave away all their sponsored candy, totaling 500 goodie bags.
For the department, being able to keep the Halloween event safe and fun was a milestone since the summer months lacked community participation in many programs.
“The pandemic has changed everything since recreating involves people either coming together in teams to play or in groups to learn together,” Applebaum said.
Restrictions led many departments to make tough decisions with their staff and with minimal hours available, others left to look elsewhere.
“There are some recreation departments in Monroe County who have furloughed their entire departments since the pandemic began. Sports, classes, clubs, you name it. Social distancing, screening, and mask-wearing have put a serious damper on community members wanting to get involved with recreational programming,” Applebaum said.
Zach Miller, a former staff member whose role was to organize Hamlin’s youth sports programs during the pandemic, said that the Department tried to keep as many things open as possible.
“We’re a small town; the sports that the department offered over the summer were soccer and baseball leagues along with other classes for kids like the Nerf wars,” said Miller.
This unique summer was filled with restrictions the department had to follow, and with less participation in youth sports programs than usual, it made things difficult.
“We tried to hold out on camps and sports programs for as long as possible,” said Miller.
Hamlin’s recreation department, along with many other departments, have found it hard to offer leagues or and camps due to restrictions. As sports and activities have been at a standstill, the recreation’s after school programs have still been running.
“We are providing childcare to match the school’s curriculums. Full day, hybrid, or before and after school care. Our participation numbers are low though, as they are all over,” said Applebaum.
The pandemic has affected the department and has pushed them to move forward with an open mind when finding new ways to engage the community.
“We will also test the waters next month with some virtual programming for kids. Cooking and crafts for kids online!” said Applebaum.
Other ways the department promotes information and events out to the community is through social media.
“Since July, the Town has been putting out a monthly newsletter outlining events and programming for the following month. We also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account for further promotion. These are very useful tools!” said Applebaum.
Social media use to promote upcoming events is important to the department since not receiving as many participants as usual.
Even though operations are still running during the pandemic, the future is unclear for the department on whether they’ll be able to offer programs and activities. Community participation will play a major factor in the department’s success and ability to offer different programs the community can enjoy in the future.
“Until our public situation changes, whether because of a vaccine or new guidelines, we will continue to be very limited with what we do,” said Applebaum
With options limited, the department has positive outlooks for the future.
“It’s sad, but it’s temporary. As an eternal optimist, I’m also a firm believer that next year things will be much closer to normal,” said Applebaum.
The department has proven to be resilient during the pandemic, offering as many programs as they could. The doors will remain open for the Hamlin recreation department as they will continue to battle through these trying times in support of their mission of providing affordable, accessible, and safe programs for the Hamlin community to enjoy.