The Carlson family is known for their love of Halloween and has operated a haunted house on Oct. 31 for the past eight years. However, because of COVID-19, they have had to adjust their plans and change how they celebrate.
Jarita and Chad Carlson not only enjoy celebrating Halloween but also spend time giving back to their community. They combine these two passions by collecting donations for the Lacombe Food Bank at their annual haunted house, Carlson Manor.
Jarita who lovingly describes her husband as “obsessed with Halloween” said they picked the food bank as their charity of choice, so they could teach their kids what giving back looks like.
“It’s a tangible way to show our kids a way to give,” said Jarita. “Food they can visualize … if they didn’t have that what it would look like.”
Chad has always been interested in Halloween and with his background in theatre and set design creating Carlson Manor was a perfect fit.
On a normal year, the haunted house is set up in the garage and has 11 rooms with volunteer scare actors who jump out at patrons. Chad built and designed many of the animatronics himself including the skeletons displayed prominently in the front yard.
“Every year gets bigger and bigger,” said Chad. “It’s awesome to have a place where families can go on Halloween and create some family experiences.”
However, this year, all decorations are displayed outdoors and there are no volunteers jumping out to spook anyone. The display spills out into the empty lot next door and is filled with skulls, ghosts and spider webs.
The changes have created a bit of a struggle especially with the cold weather Lacombe experienced in the middle of October.
“We’ve had a lot of things freeze and crack and batteries die faster,” said Jarita. “So [Chad] spent quite a bit of time outside with the maintenance.”
They have modified the decor and staging to be more family-friendly this year with the inclusion of inflatable’s, singing pumpkins and new animatronics.
The biggest concern for the family was getting enough donations for the food bank with all of the changes. They have been collecting donations in a coffin outside of their home all month and will continue to do so up until Halloween.
In order to collect as many donations as possible, Cilantro and Chive asked the family to create the October burger of the month with $2 from every sale going to the food bank.
“When [Riely Kay] found out we weren’t doing our haunted house because of COVID-19 he actually reached out to us,” said Chad.
Due to COVID-19 risks, the couple has decided not to take their two children trick-or-treating this year but instead did what they call “reverse trick or treating” or random acts of kindness.
“We wanted to still give our kids a Halloween experience and let them wear their costumes,” said Chad
Another new addition to the family’s charity work was handing out prizes donated by local Lacombe businesses to random people around town. This was a way for the family to dress up in their homemade Ghostbusters costumes and still give their kids the feeling of trick or treating but while staying within health protocols.
They also collected gift baskets with $600 worth of donations and drew the winners on Wednesday night. The couple will be dropping off one more gift basket over the weekend at the long-term care home.
“We put together a lot of art supplies and canvases and things they needed for their recreation department,” said Jarita.
The haunted yard, located at 54 Erica Drive in Lacombe, will be open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. or whenever traffic dies down on Halloween night. The Carlson’s will be handing out candy via a homemade candy chute to trick-or-treaters Donations for the food bank can be dropped off anytime up until Oct. 31.