Doorbells, crunching leaves and shouts of "trick or treat" are among the many mainstay sounds of Halloween, but this year, a familiar one will be missing - the clink of coins falling into Unicef boxes.
Citing ho-hum returns, safety concerns and changing times, the international children's relief agency has relieved Canadian kids of a 50-year-old tradition - collecting coins with their candy as they go door-to-door - and replaced it with a campaign of grassroots events based mainly in schools.
Unicef officials say these events, which a growing number of schools had already been staging as an alternative to the coin-box program, are more meaningful for kids and comforting to parents worried about them carrying money around on Halloween.
The new approach also eliminates the cumbersome job of gathering up the resulting $3-million in coins each autumn, an amount the agency has been struggling to increase.
"It's been flat," said Barbara Strang, a Unicef Canada spokeswoman, adding that the agency expects to raise $5.7-million this year under the new system, with 4,150 schools participating. Half the proceeds will go to help schools in Malawi and the rest to other programs.
"I have to tell you, I'm only hearing good things," Ms. Strang said. "People are really into it and they're really engaged by it, and kids are coming up with really neat ideas."
Today, for example, 375 students from Irwin Park Elementary School in West Vancouver will go on a six-kilometre "water walk" to Ambleside Beach and back, to symbolize the walks many African children make daily to fetch water. They hope to raise $10,000, up from the $7,055.20 they collected last year, through coin boxes and a head-shaving event involving principal Brad Lund.
On Friday night, Whyte Ridge Elementary School in Winnipeg held "Camp Unicef" in its gymnasium, wrapping up a month's worth of study on Malawi, with entertainment including the reading of a counting book in Swahili. More than 300 families registered for the event by buying a "camping spot" with a donation to Unicef.
Irene Davy, director of the private Sunnybrook School in Toronto, said she "wasn't really that thrilled" when Unicef announced last spring that the coin box was no more.
"The coins were very easy for us; all we did was hand out the boxes, collect the boxes and there was nothing else involved in it for us as a school," Ms. Davy said. "But then, on talking to families about the change, they told me that oftentimes they just filled the box at home."
Ms. Davy, as well as Unicef, had no safety concerns about kids collecting coins, since they were aware of no past trouble."I didn't think that carrying coin boxes was too much of an imposition on them; I think they could do a little bit of work to help people," she said.
"However, they weren't very connected to the project. They just did what was asked; they had their boxes and they brought them back."
This year, the students were "inspired and motivated" by speakers Unicef sent to the school, and went on to organize three successful fundraisers of their own. "They did all the work, they collected all the money, it's all been their effort," Ms. Davy said.
For all the praise it has won from people like Ms. Davy, Unicef's change for spare change's sake has others wondering if Unicef has hastily given up on a good thing. Some have even jumped into the breach with Halloween coin-box campaigns of their own.
In Prince Edward Island, the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada is handing out 1,400 boxes in a trial run that, if successful, will expand next year.
And in Vancouver, Tom Williams, the young CEO of on-line charitable foundation GiveMeaning.com, has far bigger things in mind for his Pig-E-Bank, a souped-up version of the coin box that could represent a future that Unicef was unable to see for itself.
The Pig-E-Bank is a bright red box with a clear plastic window that will allow individual children, their classes or their schools to direct what they collect to any of Canada's 80,000 charities, Unicef included.
Donors, in turn, will be given coded cards so they can find out, on GiveMeaning's website, which charities the trick-or-treaters chose and why.
"We said, 'Let's stick with something that we know people love, and let's just take the problems with that loved thing and address those problems,'" said Mr. Williams, 27, better known as the Internet whiz kid from Victoria who was just 14 when he landed a full-time job at Apple Computer in California.
Allowing kids to choose their charities solves the problem of disengagement, and enabling donors to trace their contributions teaches them about different charities and encourages further giving, he said.
Logistically, GiveMeaning solved the coin problem by enlisting courier companies to pick them up, free of charge, in tamper-proof packages, negating any sorting and counting at schools.
Just in time for Tuesday night, GiveMeaning has shipped 2,000 of the boxes to schools in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Penticton, B.C., with plans to expand next year.
While he understands Unicef's desire to update its Halloween campaign, Mr. Williams said he remembers the satisfaction he felt carrying its coin boxes when he was a kid and wants to ensure today's children don't miss out.
"What was so wonderful about it was that I was making real change out of spare change," he said. "I felt, as an eight-year-old, that I was as important a philanthropist as Bill Gates or Warren Buffett."