For 44 years, Merrill children have been collecting contributions for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) at Halloween.
Merrill students received their UNICEF boxes today and will be Trick or Treating for UNICEF Thursday night. Merrill residents are encouraged to have change available for children who take their UNICEF boxes out for Trick of Treat.
Retired teacher Jim Lewis started the UNICEF program in Merrill in 1969. An educational component was soon added.
“We realized the kids were getting boxes without a very clear idea about what the money was for,” Lewis said. A volunteer program started with ladies from St. Robert’s Church, who would go to the schools and teach children the meaning behind Trick or Treat for UNICEF.
“Merrill is unique in that it has an educational program that goes along with it,” Lewis said. “The important thing is that children get the idea that they have a part in making the world a better place.”
A group of volunteers continues to present the UNICEF program at Merrill elementary schools. Current volunteers are Judy Evans, Barb Peterson, Mary Ann Vandergeest and Becky Yorde.
The students learn about the target country and what their money will buy for the children there.
“When we have the educators in the schools, it boosts our collection amount and gets the kids fired up for a good cause,” said Mark Seaman, Merrill’s UNICEF co-coordinator.
The UNICEF program offers incidental lessons in social studies and math, but the children also learn that they can make a difference in the world, co-coordinator Christine Schmelling said.
“The kids get excited,” Schmelling said. “We want them to know that there are people in the world beyond our community. We want to empower them and let them know that even though you’re a kid, you can make a difference in the lives of others.”
The total collection in Merrill averages $5,000 per year.
This year’s Merrill Trick or Treat for UNICEF target country is Syria. According to UNICEF, 3.1 million children are at risk in Syria, where essential services like clean water are disappearing amid escalating violence. In some areas, UNICEF is maintaining the entire water supply. In refugee camps bordering Syria, there are now more than one million child refugees.
At the elementary schools, each student gets a UNICEF collection box to take home. The elementary schools also hold incentive activities encouraging students to bring in their change to donate. At Prairie River Middle School, where the children are mostly past the Trick or Treat age, homeroom fund raising competitions provide fun incentives to donate for UNICEF. In the past, the winning homeroom has gotten a pizza party. The homeroom competitions are going on all this week at PRMS.
UNICEF has helped to mobilize what is now the largest humanitarian operation in history; supplying food, water, education, clothing and critical immunizations to families and children in Syria and neighboring countries. More than 2.3 million children have been vaccinated against measles and 450,000 children have received counseling. UNICEF and its partners are launching a home-based learning program for 400,000 children who cannot attend school because of the conflict.
UNICEF was organized in 1946 by the United Nations to meet the emergency needs of children in post-World War II Europe and China. In 1950, its mandate was broadened to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries everywhere. UNICEF is now active in 190 countries and territories worldwide.