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Elks make Halloween all-inclusive


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000

HUDSON -- Trick-or-treating in a wheelchair can make for a long night.

[Times photo: Kevin White]
Nick Fernandez, dressed as the Tin Man, enjoys a laugh with clown Mary Heidrich during the Elks' annual Halloween Party on Thursday.
Especially for Kristine Anderson, an 8-year-old from Spring Hill who has cerebral palsy and three sisters to keep up with.

On Thursday, Kristine's parents, Paula and James Anderson, took their daughter to Aripeka Elks Lodge 2520 for the group's annual Halloween party. There, children with mental or physical disabilities are the guests of honor.

Kristine, who has started to practice using a walker, began begging last year to dress up as a witch, and her mother finally gave in.

"We got ready a month ago," said Mrs. Anderson, as she steadied her youngest daughter, Jamie, who teetered at the edge of a table where Kristine had taken a short break from the festivities to eat a hot dog. "We love it."

The Andersons were among the nearly 450 people who jammed the lodge on Denton Avenue for an evening of food, music, games and prizes. The highlight for many was making the rounds through a block of miniature houses made of painted plywood where volunteers waited in the windows to pass out stuffed animals and candy.

Most of the goodies were donated by local businesses, and special-needs children from schools in Pasco and Hernando counties were invited to the event, along with their parents and siblings, said organizer Hal Steffes.

Seventeen residents of The Angelus, a Hudson home for profoundly disabled people, also attended, dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz.

Tom Brown, 38, marked his seventh trip to the party. In keeping with this year's Angelus theme, he dressed as the Mayor of Oz, complete with a mock-up of the movie character's giant watch and chain.

"I like being with friends," Brown said. "They have good food. They have a great atmosphere."

Steffes came up with the party idea 12 years ago after attending a similar one at an Elks lodge in Michigan, where he used to live. The event has ballooned in popularity since the first year, when Elks members constructed the tiny village out of empty refrigerator boxes.

This year, Steffes recruited 50 volunteers and started planning the party four months ago.

When it was over, guests had devoured nearly 700 hot dogs and 20 trays of pizza.

Teams of clowns went through bags of balloons, fashioning herds of animals and bouquets of flowers as dozens of children lined up to have their faces painted.

Cheryl Lynn Chaney, 10, of Hudson clapped furiously as one volunteer dressed in a yellow chicken suit posed behind her wheelchair for a picture. Her mother, Kim, said the party is always a special day for Cheryl Lynn, who has Rett syndrome.

"She can't trick-or-treat," Chaney said. "I take her out, and she gets snubbed. It's just easier to do this, and she likes it."

Brown said he is already looking forward to next year. He is hoping to convince his friends at Angelus to go with a NASCAR theme so he can don dark sunglasses, a hat and sweat-shirt to become race-car driver Richard Petty.

"He's a retired seven-time champion," said Brown. "It's my goal to be him."

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