69 Years of Collecting for UNICEF

UNICEF is confident we can all make a change for good. Inside all of us, even in the youngest of children, is the ability to help others. In 2019, UNICEF has packaged this confidence in a tiny orange box with handles, inspiring children to believe that “We Can All Be Heroes.”

“We Can All Be Heroes” is the theme for this year’s annual Trick-or-Treat (TOT) for UNICEF program in which children go door-to-door with instantly recognizable little orange boxes asking for coins and raising money to help needy children all over the world. Created in 1950 and going strong since then, UNICEF’s TOT program has raised over $180 million, with funds being distributed to help children with health care, nutrition, safe water, education, emergency relief and more.


Schoolchildren can participate in TOT this year for one day, several days or throughout the entire month of October. Parents are encouraged to visit the TOT program website to order TOT boxes. Parents may also download supplemental materials, including donation forms, canister labels and participation certificates. UNICEF is offering incentives for children to participate throughout the whole month of October by adding “daily treats'”of fun content to its website!

Once the children receive the orange boxes by mail or attach a printed label to their own box, they can start collecting coins. Traditionally, children have taken their orange boxes along with their Halloween bags on Halloween night and collected candy and coins at the same time. Today, children are not limited to collecting coins on one night only. UNICEF is encouraging classrooms and children’s organizations to spread the fundraising throughout the entire month of October.

Elementary school children who are members of the Kiwanis K-Kids service programs and high school student members of Key Club International are also strongly encouraged to participate!

Youth Engagement

According to the public relations manager for UNICEF USA, Nina Marie Costa, this is not just about participation, but engagement, which is a stronger way of getting children involved as socially conscious citizens. “We believe every child has the power to make a difference in this world. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF engages students in the classroom and their communities, giving them the power to help other kids. When students participate, they become more aware and realize that their actions can make a real-world impact,” notes Costa.

Children’s actions are certainly making a real-world impact on a day-to-day basis, as evidenced by frequent internet headlines of random acts of kindness that are witnessed or recorded on social media. Once these headlines make the rounds, people become heavily inspired by children, often shedding tears behind their computer screens, moved by the fact that children have made deliberate decisions to choose kindness.

Though social media is the norm today, it is refreshing to hear that the origins of the TOT program began through old-fashioned face-to-face conversation.

How it All Started

In 1950, Mary Emma Allison, a former schoolteacher and wife of a Presbyterian minister, had an awakening as she was handing out candy to trick-or-treaters at her home in Philadelphia. She made a simple statement to her husband about wanting to turn the candy-giving into something good. However, it wasn’t until Allison happened to stumble upon a bizarre event that the idea would click in her mind.

Allison saw a parade-in-progress led by a real cow. She learned that UNICEF was raising money to buy milk for undernourished children around the world. Suddenly, Allison knew she wanted to combine the traditional candy-collecting aspect of Halloween night with serious fundraising for UNICEF to help children in need. Alison’s husband helped by writing a story for a major newspaper and giving sermons during religious service. Their grassroots marketing efforts worked and word caught on.

In the beginning, children painted milk boxes orange and took them door-to-door, collecting coins for UNICEF. Over the years, UNICEF began distributing its own branded collection boxes, always orange, and intended for the same purpose of raising money to help poor children around the world.

Today’s Rock Stars!

Now celebrating 69 years of the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program, the little orange box has become a rock star of sorts, cemented in place in pop culture history thanks to some help from famous celebrity supporters including Disney actresses, Sofia Carson, Zendaya and Laura Marano, to name a few. In fact, Carson has only great words to share about working with UNICEF: “I believe with my whole heart that to work with UNICEF to educate the children of our world is, simply, the most important thing that I could ever do.”

Elevating its place to rock star status is the box’s clever, creative designs that change each year. In 2015, for example, the cast of the Peanuts comic strip made their grand debut, followed by a double-header of Goosebumps characters in 2017 and 2018. The 2019 design brings cuteness to a whole new level, featuring an intricate design with a hidden-picture message.

Despite the flashiness and fanfare of celebrity supporters or graphic designs, however, parents must remember that the real rock stars are our children. With the tool of tiny little orange boxes, we are empowering them to do something to make a difference in the world. “Each time the children ask for coins to donate to UNICEF, they are making a positive impact on society and are quickly becoming the next generation of engaged American citizens,” says Nina Marie Costa.

For more information, visit TrickOrTreatforUNICEF.org.