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LUMBERTON — Municipalities and churches will have to look this year for alternatives to the Halloween trick-or-treat or trunk-or-treat events that have been staples around Robeson County in past years.

The City of Lumberton already has.

Plans are underway to turn the city’s annual Candy Fest, one of the county’s largest trunk-or-treating events, into a drive-through-only program. The Fest is one of Lumberton’s larger family events, typically drawing thousands of children and adults to Northeast Park by offering costume contests, inflatables, food and decorated vehicle trunks packed with candy.

“The anticipation is to do a drive-through,” said Courtney Rogerson, city Special Events coordinator. “When I first had this idea, the first people we called was the Health Department. I have spoken with the Health Department and we’ve gotten the OK.”

The idea is for the event to still take place at Northeast Park, Rogerson said. Vehicles will remain two car spaces apart, and candy will be distributed to each child in the vehicle.

“This would simply be a drive-through,” Rogerson said. “We have been really making sure we are being compliant to the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

The city’s Recreation Department is still “tying up loose ends” and determining the logistics, but is shooting for an Oct. 30 Candy Fest date.

The event may be the only chance for Lumberton’s children to participate in a trick-or-treat event. After the CDC released its higher risk activities list, the city is recommending it’s residents refrain from trick-or-treating. However, this may be subject to change, if Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“Going by the CDC guidelines, it is not recommended. But things could change as we get closer to Halloween,” Rogerson said.

Robeson County Health Department Director Bill Smith said people already are apprehensive about trick-or-treaters coming to their homes.

“[T]ravelling in crowds has lots of risk attached to it,” Smith said. “Many people who have reduced visitors to their home will not be inclined to open their doors at any rate. The days of busloads of people coming into Lumberton’s neighborhoods are over — at least for the foreseeable future.”

The city’s drive-through trunk-or-treating alternative is a “good example of minimum risk” activities, Smith said.

Because of pandemic-related restrictions, another large trunk-or-treat event in Red Springs has been cancelled and the county may halt festivities as well.

The First Baptist Church in Red Springs announced earlier this month that it will not hold its annual trunk-or-treat event. In past years, The Town of Red Springs has used the event as a safer substitute for door-to-door trick-or-treating.

Robeson County’s Parks and Recreation Department is discussing possible Halloween events that can be staged safely, but department administrators also are leaning toward cancelling all events.

“We’re talking about it, but we may have to put plans off until next year,” said Wendy Chavis, department director. “We just don’t see how we can plan it this year.”

The department has been made aware of the city’s plan “but they have a big park to do that,” Chavis said.

An official decision on whether or not to cancel all Halloween activities may be made later this week, Chavis said.

The CDC recently released its list of high-risk Halloween activities. The list includes:

— Attending crowded indoor costume parties;

— Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming;

— Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in their household;

— Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors;

— Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

Bill Smith said parents may be able to achieve the trick-or-treating feel by taking a moderate approach.

“Dressing children up and taking them to select friends who are participating should create minimal contact, allows for some normalcy and makes for a memorable opportunity,” Smith said.

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