After canceling its annual fall festival in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, N.C. hosted an outdoor event called Trick or Treat Trail. “We thought this would provide [the children] a safe place to do trick-or-treating,” says Jeana McLean, Special Events Director at Old Town Club. The event included many innovative methods of delivering candy to the children. Cotton candy was dropped from a balcony, candy was sent down a chute at a playground, and treats were also dropped from a drone as it soared overhead.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced country club leaders to either reinvent their traditional events or perhaps offer a new one.
Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, N.C., found itself in this situation when the public health emergency forced the cancellation of its fall festival in 2020.
“It’s a big fair,” says Jeana McLean, Special Events Director at Old Town Club. “We have all the rides and the games and fair food and pony rides. It’s our biggest kids’ event of the whole year.”
With the club’s signature youth activity canceled, McLean states, “We wanted to find a way to still let [children] come out and have fun, and there was a lot of talk about trick-or-treating being canceled.”
A lot of members, McLean says, did not want their children to do traditional trick-or-treating due to concerns about the coronavirus. As a result, club officials decided to host a new outdoor event called Trick-or-Treat Trail.
“We thought this would provide [the children] a safe place to do trick-or-treating,” McLean says.
The event was planned carefully to ensure social distancing occurred among the participants.
“We couldn’t do inflatables and we couldn’t do things that everyone is going to touch, so every piece. . . we had to make it spaced out,” McLean says.
She adds she wanted to offer more than just having the children walk from table to table collecting candy.
“We had to try and think of activities that were still a little bit interesting, but we couldn’t have them gather,” McLean says.
Participants signed up to hit the trail during specific time increments. The children wore costumes and were greeted by employees dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Peppa Pig, and the Winston Salem Tennis Open’s tennis ball mascot.
“We figured that was a safe photo op because everyone was in masks,” McLean says.
At one table, staff used tongs shaped like skeleton hands to pass out candy. The young ghouls and goblins visited another spot where candy was placed in ghost-themed cups.
The club chef and other employees stood on the facility’s upper balcony and dropped bags of cotton candy to the youngsters.
“That was just another way to deliver the treats to them in a unique way,” McLean says.
Other creative methods of delivery included two candy chutes, one of which was set up on the playground with irrigation tubing running from the top of the slide to the bottom.
“[We had] staff at the top of the slide, sending candy down the chute and the kids had to position their buckets at the bottom,” McLean says.
Candy was also dropped from a drone as it soared overhead.
“A bag of candy [was] suspended [by a wire] from the drone and then he had a release mechanism and when he clicked the button, it released the bag and the candy fell out on the ground,” says McLean.
At the end of the trail, about 400 children and their families received a take-home dinner.
“I think the members were just so happy to get out and be doing something that seemed kind of normal,” McLean says.
About 20-25 club employees from multiple departments took part in the event while wearing themed T-shirts and masks. McLean notes her team, along with GM Josh Paris, worked together on creating the event.
Some members asked the club to host the festivities again in 2021, but that did not happen because Old Town returned to staging its traditional fall festival.
McLean, a club employee for 25 years, says she enjoyed the challenge of creating a new event.
“It was kind of exciting, in a weird way, to have to reinvent everything,” she says. “‘How am I going to get these kids out to have Halloween fun?’”
In 2020, Old Town also set up a pumpkin patch that was so well-received by members that it was continued in 2021 and is expected to return this fall.
McLean says she felt these offerings sent a message to members.
“It showed them that we really wanted to preserve our traditions and the special moments for them,” she says. “I want them to keep remembering, ‘oh, yeah, we did that at Old Town.’ That’s important to us.”