Tips for Easy Trunk-or-Treat Sets-Ups

Crosspost Holidays

Whether they are offered as a safe alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating, a fundraising effort for a school, place of worship, or nonprofit organization, or just a community-run way of giving families something to do together in the fall, the trunk-or-treat is still a popular event.

When my oldest daughter was just a few years old, we would take her to one or two of these events, and as she got older (and a little sister came along), we started participating ourselves. This was primarily a way to help out our own church, but we soon realized it was a pretty fun way to be creative together as a family.

Coming up with trunk ideas was always part of the fun, and we started theming our Halloween costume ideas around it. This year, we’ll be putting up our seventh or eighth trunk for an event, and there are a few things I have learned in the process, particularly if you’ve been asked to toss together a last-minute trunk for your school or club. 

Here are some very quick tips I’ve learned the hard way to make trunk-or-treat as fun and easy as possible:

• Use what you have at home. If you have small decorations, pumpkins battery-operated lights, or other items that will go well with your theme, don’t go buy a bunch of new stuff. Making new backdrops or small props is part of the fun, but if you can avoid spending too much time on something you might have in the closet or garage, take advantage of it.

• Find out if the organization is providing candy or favors before purchasing too much. We always bring one or two bags of treats, but we’ve found our church collects donations over a couple of months to distribute to the trunk hosts. Yes, this does include treats or non-candy items suitable for those with special dietary needs.

• You don’t have to always go spooky. I love the old-school ghouls and goblins of Halloween, but sometimes the most fun trunk ideas are centered on pop culture themes like superheroes, video games, book characters, movies, music, and even… different eras. Your style of Halloween decorations at home might be classic Universal Monsters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go “totally ’80s new wave” for your trunk idea.

• Get there as soon as they let you set up to scope out a spot with the most shade possible. We’ve made this mistake in the past and had a beam of hot sunshine directly on our trunk the whole time. Stay cool. That being said…

• Bring plenty of water for yourself and your family. Many hosting organizations offer free water for volunteers, but it never hurts to have a backup. Staying cooler and hydrated makes all the difference if you are standing up in a parking lot for three hours.

• When you are standing around for any amount of time, shoes matter. I can’t believe I’m repeating what my parents said to me each Halloween when I wanted to go all crazy with elaborate costume designs, but now I get the “wear comfortable shoes” lecture. If we’re not feeling good, we’re no fun to be around, and that negates the entire reason for hosting a trunk in the first place.

Some of our and our fellow volunteers’ ideas from trunk-or-treats of years past.

• Make sure you have helpers to build your trunk. It takes more than one person to keep a trunk running, and some trunk-or-treat events are a constant non-stop string of kids. Building the trunk is easier when the whole family helps. 

• Extending ideas beyond just the trunk space makes the design look great, but don’t bring them too far out of the way or they’ll get knocked over, kicked around, or trod upon. I speak from experience here on this one.

• Tag team on the treat handouts. You’re going to want to take a break. It helps when families give each other time to wander the parking lot and enjoy the other trunks, grab some food if they have it, or accompany your own kids on their trunk-or-treat goody-gathering.

• Don’t go overboard with the giant props. I love the big elaborate, crazy setups, and I’m a sucker for spooky pageantry, but everything you put up you are going to have to take down and toss or store. Sometimes, bigger props from last year can be modified for future trunks, so keep that in mind if you really have your heart set on a cool centerpiece. One of our fellow volunteers did a big witch’s hat one year, and the next year it magically became Harry Potter‘s sorting hat. If they play their cards right, they could have Gandalf’s hat with a simple paint job.

• Keep in mind what time of day the event is and plan accordingly. If it is daytime, you won’t need any light-up accessories. They won’t show up. We spent time stringing cheap LED lights around our trunk and no one knew one year. If it is early evening. bring some dinner snacks if they don’t already offer them. If it is a morning event (and, yes, they do host those), get a good night’s sleep beforehand.

Some of my favorite decorating ideas incorporate lights, but these really only show in the late afternoon or at night. All images: Lisa and Rick Tate

Above all, make it fun! Be creative, silly, or spooky. Be clever, and be cool. The whole idea of bringing people together for a celebration of family, community, and creative thinking is something I’m all for. 

Trunk-or-treat doesn’t necessarily replace the old-fashioned neighborhood trick-or-treat experience, but it does give families one more fun thing to look forward to. Don’t make it a hassle, but rather an opportunity to get out and enjoy the season.

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