Non-profits put charitable spin on Halloween season

Most people think of Halloween as a chance to don outrageous costumes, enjoy delicious candy and check out the seasonal horror movies at the box office.

But the holiday is also a great time to give back to the local and global communities while celebrating the spookiest day of the year. Instead of just trick-or-treating, USC students should consider a different, though by no means less festive, celebration. Alternative Halloween celebrations provide a change of pace from the usual haunted houses and horror films, and unlike the trite, typical Halloween festivities, these events will leave you with more than just a bag full of candy.

Halloween provides an excuse to step outside the realm of the mundane, and the Dream Halloween event in Hollywood, hosted by Alicia Keys’ Keep a Child Alive Foundation, allows guests to do just that. Founded in 2003, Keep a Child Alive improves the lives of children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.

Aside from providing life-saving medication and nutrition, KCA empowers and educates at-risk populations in India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa. Volunteers build and furnish clinics with the information and supplies necessary to improve lives in the areas. For this fall season, however, Dream Halloween serves as a posh, star-studded event to raise funds to support KCA’s work.

For the last 19 years, Dream Halloween has been an outstanding celebration, but this year’s events particularly stand out. Saturday’s program features a performance by Victoria Justice as a main attraction, and other highlights include the legendary Trick-or-Treat Lane furnished by Toys “R” Us and Mattel, a haunted forest, a “Mad Hatter’s tea party,” food from Los Angeles’ finest restaurants and freebies for children and adults. Though it might only seem like one big costume party, 86 percent of the funds generated by Dream Halloween go directly toward helping those affected by the AIDS epidemic.

Though the tickets might be a bit out of reach for most students at $300 a person, it’s still possible to participate in this legendary event. As a non-profit organization, KCA depends on volunteers. Positions vary from food service to trick-or-treat bag stuffing to being a costume character who poses for pictures. What better way to enjoy the party and feel good about making a difference in the global community than to volunteer at Dream Halloween?

But even after Oct. 31, it’s possible to stay in the festive Halloween spirit and make a difference in the local community: The AIDS Service Center, for example, will host a masquerade ball in Pasadena on Nov. 3. After holding its first ball in 2006, the ASC revived the tradition last year. The balls help to raise funds and give ASC’s clients and allies a night of frightful fun. This year’s theme, “Six Feet Under: Come As Your Favorite Dead Super Star,” is festively morbid even as it supports a good cause.

Anthony Guthmiller, executive director of the ASC, is the man behind ASC’s Halloween festivities. Guthmiller has been living with HIV for the last 21 years and understands the ongoing societal stresses the disease causes. With ASC, he seeks to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS by providing information and offering support to Pasadena and surrounding communities.

For HIV/AIDS victims, ASC offers care at the personal level. The organization provides transportation and nutrition assistance as well as Back-to-School and Client Holiday Party programs. For Guthmiller and ASC, the goal behind these efforts is “to create awareness.”

But despite ASC’s serious and important mission, the Halloween ball is not an educational event; it is an opportunity for advocates and supporters to raise funds and have a good time. Guthmiller believes the light-hearted atmosphere will help ASC remove the HIV/AIDS taboo from the community.

Though the ASC is leading the way in HIV/AIDS outreach, Guthmiller cites students as the ones who will be responsible for normalizing the HIV/AIDS dialog and changing how society deals with this issue. For the USC community, the Halloween Masquerade Ball is just one way to spread awareness while enjoying the last hurrah of the Halloween season.

ASC will also draw on local culture at its Halloween Masquerade Ball. The ball coincides with the Día de los Muertos holiday and will feature volunteers in Día de los Muertos costumes. In addition, high school and college student volunteers will dress up as zombies and serve as “living-dead” décor at the ball, as advertised in ’SC’s Volunteer newsletter, “Volunteer SConnection.”

Though ASC is not directly present on campus, Guthmiller encourages student involvement in ASC’s other events throughout the year and to reach beyond the L.A. community and support HIV/AIDS education and prevention. The Service Center helps to break down societal boundaries by holding unique fundraisers such as their signature home architectural showcase and drag queen bingo.

Clearly, Halloween is much more than a time for candy and costumes. From KCA to ASC, the L.A. community is brimming with unique charities and exciting volunteer opportunities. This year, explore alternative Halloween celebrations and help make a difference in the global and local communities. The experience is sweeter than candy and will leave you with a warm jack-o’-lantern glow well into November.