A dentist's Halloween drill: Buy candy from the kids

November 05, 2006|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,special to the sun

A dentist's office might be the last place you'd expect to find hundreds of pounds of Kit Kats, Skittles, Tootsie Rolls and Dum-Dums.

But in the days after Halloween, Dr. Mairead O'Reilly takes it in by the bag and box.

In hopes of keeping children from overdosing on their Halloween hauls, the Annapolis dentist has offered to take it off their hands. She pays $1 per pound of candy and then donates an equal amount (and then some) to a different charity each year.

Last year, she took in 1,100 pounds, the record since she started the program in 2001.

What amazes O'Reilly is not the amount but the fact that the children are so willing to part with their Halloween treats. Many of them also decline the cash and ask to give the money to charity. "They really feel like they want to help," she said.

Last year, she donated $7,500 to Maryland Therapeutic Riding in Crownsville. Another year, she sent $5,000 to the Red Cross. This year, the recipient will be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Most of the candy goes to the Anne Arundel County Food and Resource Bank in Crownsville, but it doesn't stay there long.

Bruce Michalec, director of the food bank, had earned a reputation as "the candy man" for doling out sweets at soup kitchens during the past 20 years.

O'Reilly's donation enables Michalec to expand his reach to shelters, churches and after-school programs. People are touched by the small gift of candy, especially around the holidays, he said.

"It broke the ice sometimes dealing with people with emotional problems," Michalec said.

Severn School's Tri M Music Honors Society plans to donate some of the candy during a holiday concert at Sunrise Senior Living of Severna Park, said Ryan Crowe, O'Reilly's 18-year-old son and president of the society. She has two other children.

O'Reilly, 50, a native of Ireland, has been in the United States since the early 1980s.

She doesn't consider herself a scrooge for taking the candy. But as a dentist, the thought of things sticky and chewy and loaded with sugar getting near braces and retainers can be frightening.

O'Reilly came up with the idea for the candy purchase from a newsletter put out by the American Association of Orthodontists. It encouraged members to do something to celebrate October as National Orthodontic Health Month.

Every year, she collects more candy. On Wednesday alone, she pulled in 23 pounds.

The experiment has mushroomed beyond county lines. Last year, the 450 students at St. John's Parish Day School in Ellicott City donated 300 pounds of candy -- an average of more than a half-pound per child. O'Reilly donated $600 in the school's name and rewarded the children with an ice cream social for the second year in a row.

"It's a lesson that we teach in school that children can make a difference," said Christine Franey, director of the lower school. "Pretty much everyone just brings something and drops it in."

Sharon Rung, director of development at St. John's, was surprised to see her two daughters separating their candy into "keep" and "donate" piles as soon as they came home from trick-or-treating.

"It's exciting for me that they see that as part of Halloween now," she said.

To encourage children to give, O'Reilly used to suggest that they donate only the candy they didn't like. But Meg Fitzgerald, a third-grader at St. John's, said it wasn't hard to give up her favorites.

"I usually give up the candies that I like the most, because I know ... how much the kids would like them."

St. John's students have collected more than six boxes of candy. O'Reilly is planning the next ice cream social at St. John's just after Thanksgiving.

"We want to do it as soon as we can so we don't lose momentum," O'Reilly said.

O'Reilly is collecting candy until Thursday at her office, 888 Bestgate Road, Suite 301, in Annapolis. Information: 410- 266-0025.

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