‘Smiling Faces’: Trunk-or-Treat at Camp Eberhart Draws an Enthusiastic Crowd

Dave Vago | Watershed Voice

A “Trunk-or-Treat” event at YMCA Camp Eberhart took place this weekend, drawing several hundred carloads of trick-or-treaters. Families came in vehicles of all kinds from St. Joseph County, surrounding counties, and northern Indiana to take part in the socially distanced Halloween event. Roughly 40 organizations and private individuals hosted “trunks,” wherein they passed out candy to the families that came from the trunks of their vehicles. Some set up elaborate Halloween displays.

One group set up an elaborate “toxic waste site” display, complete with hazmat suits and a smoke machine. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Camp Eberhart sits on the northwest side of Corey Lake, near the very western edge of St. Joseph County. Upon arriving at the camp’s entrance on County Line Road on Saturday, participants lined up in their vehicles on the dirt driveway. As they reached the camp’s gate, they received programs with maps of the one-way driving loop through the grounds. Participating “trunks” were lined up along the driving route. At each trunk station, volunteers passed out treats via open car windows and van doors.

Some of Camp Eberhart’s buildings date back to the 1930s or before. Closed for the winter and boarded up, this overnight camper cabin was decorated for Halloween. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Eberhart’s Executive Director, Katia Martin, said she was extremely happy with how the day was going when Watershed Voice spoke with her, roughly halfway through. “I see lots of candy. That’s what we wanted,” Martin said. “It’s a beautiful day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather.” Martin is in her third year at Eberhart, but she has been with YMCA camping for 20. “We’ve had people from everywhere. They seem happy and pleased. The line seems to be moving well. I’ve asked, and there have been no complaints.”

The line of cars moves slowly through the camp, picking up candy along the way. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Soon after the event got underway, Martin said, the line of cars waiting to get into the event was backed up all the way down Camp Eberhart drive to County Line Road. “Oh, my goodness,” Eberhart Office Manager Lisa Vaillencourt said. “I got a phone call saying, ‘traffic’s backed up, let ‘em through!’ We’re blessed today. Everyone seems to love it.”

Camp staff and volunteers decorated the grounds with hand-carved and decorated pumpkins and other fall trappings. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

A participant later told Watershed Voice staff that when she was waiting in line, the line of cars backed up nearly to Coon Hollow Road. Prior to the event, Eberhart staff told trunk hosts to expect up to 300 cars, with multiple children in most.  Watershed Voice gave away 360 pieces of candy supplied by its own staff before it began providing candy provided by other event sponsors.

Groups of camp staff and volunteers were among the other groups and individuals who passed out candy on Saturday. This group dressed in an alien theme, and operated from a matching display. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Shanna Johnson, who cosponsored the event with Rob DuFour of ReMax/Elite Group and Holley Bloomfield of Title Resource Agency, said she always puts on a Trunk-or-Treat event. Under the unusual circumstances of this year’s pandemic, she said, things had to be different. Johnson said she is friends with Eberhart’s nurse, who put her in touch with Martin. Johnson and her colleagues arranged to have 700 pounds of candy donated for the event, which she said equated to 40 extra trunks’ worth.

Shanna Johnson and Rob DuFour, at right, join other event sponsors in staffing their own “trunk” at Saturday’s event. | Photo provided by Shanna Johnson and used with permission.

Johnson, DuFour, and Bloomfield were on hand with other colleagues in Mario character costumes to pass out candy near the Corey Lake shoreline on Saturday afternoon. “Kids are my thing,” Johnson said. “they’ve had enough taken away this year.” In light of current circumstances, Johnson said she was happy to have helped with the event.

Rob DuFour passes out candy as Holley Bloomfield waits. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Other participants agreed that the event was a good one for children. Bridgitte Romanelli of Edward Jones said the event was “such a great idea for the kids.” Kristy Shimer with John Schragg State Farm Insurance said, “it’s been fantastic. I love seeing the faces. The kids are happy to be able to do it, the parents seem relieved, and it’s great for them to have something to look forward to.”

Cars sometimes passed through the camp in waves. Representatives of Ayres Insurance wait for the next batch of vehicles by their “Halloween Party” display. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Shimer said her agency decided to participate in the event nearly two months ago in order to give back to the community. “It’s definitely not the same as when we were kids,” she said, “but it’s something. It helps give us a sense of normalcy, and we’ve got to keep going. As long as we can give back and see some smiling faces, that’s what matters.”

Members of the Fabius-Park Fire Department and the Constantine Fire Department await the next car. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Erica Hensley brought her family out to represent her employer, Omni Credit Union. Her husband and four children dressed as the Scooby-Doo gang and decorated the family’s minivan accordingly. Her husband, Larry, said the inspiration came from the fact that the couple’s own kids watch the show “nonstop.” Larry Hensley echoed Shimer’s sentiments. He said it was great to see “kids’ smiling faces” at the event.

The Hensley family came dressed as the Scooby-Doo gang. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Joining the variety of businesses and individual families on hand were a number of local community agencies. They included Community Mental Health, Commission on Aging, Constantine and Fabius Park Fire Departments, among others. Three Rivers Public Library was on hand passing out its newsletter, comics, and candy.

Three Rivers Public Library staff and volunteers pass out candy, comics, and newsletters. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

There were also several community groups and churches. Abbi Horn joined other volunteers from Corey Church of the Nazarene to pass out candy to Trunk-or-Treaters. Horn said there were “tons of people” participating in the event, and she was happy “seeing people smiling, laughing, and chatting after being cut off for so long.”

Watershed Voice staff pass out candy to Trunk-or-Treaters at Camp Eberhart Saturday | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Nearby Camp Wakeshma also participated in Saturday’s event at Eberhart. “It’s amazing. We love it,” said Wakeshma’s Emily Milnamow. “It’s been a great way to get involved with the community.” Pat Conway, who is President of Wakeshma’s Board of Directors, said some usual events that his organization participates in did not happen this year, “so we’re grateful now more than ever” to be able to participate in Saturday’s event.

Camp Eberhart Office Manager Lisa Vaillencourt waiting at the end of the driving tour route to help visitors deposit their “best costume” votes in the ballot box. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

It was Martin’s daughter, Emmalee Jo, who came up with the idea for the Trunk-or-Treat event. In a conversation with Watershed Voice last week, Martin said Emmalee Jo “was lamenting a month ago that there wasn’t going to be any trick-or-treating. She said, ‘I wish we could do trunk-or-treat at camp,’ so it really came from the mind of a 10-year-old, which is really exciting.”

Camp Director Katia Martin poses with her daugher, Emmalee Jo, who came up with the idea for Saturday’s event. | Dave Vago, Watershed Voice

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.