Halloween at Smokies stadium: Candy-handy church members greet 3,500 from community

Halloween at Smokies stadium: Candy-handy church members greet 3,500 from community

It started a few years ago -- in a church parking lot with one congregation.

But on Sunday night, 3,500 people lined up outside Smokies Park for a Halloween festival sponsored by six churches, 18 businesses, and a camp.

Kodak United Methodist Church has led the community "trunk or treat" party for four years, lining up cars and trucks in the stadium parking lot and inviting families to come -- in costume -- for free candy, inflatable games, and music from a praise band.

"People who wouldn't normally come to a church will come to familiar place like a stadium," said Holly Roe, Kodak UMC director of children's ministry.

Roe thought of taking the annual event out of the church parking lot in 2006, when she first came to Kodak UMC. "It was mostly our own kids," she said of the Halloween attendance. "I said, 'Guys, let's think out of the box. How can we minister to more people?'"

Roe made some calls, and Kodak moved one mile down highway 66 to the home stadium for minor league baseball's Tennessee Smokies.

"The first year, we planned for 800 and 1,500 showed up," said Roe. "The second year, we had 2,500; the third, 3,000."

Shady Grove UMC, six miles away, joined in as a sponsor.

"We realized it was too big of a crowd to pass up," said the Rev. Scott Brady, pastor at Shady Grove.

"We've actually had some people come to our church because of this," said Kristine Cotton, children's ministry director at Shady Grove.

All trick-or-treaters receive fliers in their treat bags listing sponsoring churches. This year, Camp Wesley Woods staff gave out candy, as well as Kodak Community Baptist Church, First Smoky Mountain Church of the Nazarene, and two nondenominational churches. Eighteen vehicles with candy-handy church members were lined up on behalf of Kodak. Twelve vehicles represented Shady Grove.

Local businesses are invited to give away free treats or make monetary donations. Kodak UMC budgets for $1,000 "to replenish all those who run out of candy," Roe said. "We have about another $500 to 600 donated from individuals and businesses. All hot dogs, drinks, inflatables, and venue are donated. So we pull off the event for $1,000."

The event gains publicity from local media coverage and through fliers distributed to three elementary schools, Roe said.

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