Greg Couture polishes off a banana Sunday while his wife, Deb, serves candy during the Gardiner Halloween celebration. The couple were serving children on behalf of the Rotary Club. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Abriel Dustin, dressed in layers underneath her striped pants and green wig, had come prepared for Sunday’s Drive-Through Trunk or Treat, which took place in both bright sun and amid stiff breezes.

Inspired by the movie Beetlejuice, Dustin, 14, along with two friends, was safely doling out treats from a car trunk to costumed children reaching out from family vehicles.

Dustin helped oversee and carry out all the tasks needed to put the event together. That, Raye Anne DeSoto said, will become a part of her story.

DeSoto, a teacher in the Gardiner-area school district, is also the faculty advisor of the Interact Club to which Dustin belongs — the student version of the Rotary Club. She happens to be a big believer in the power of stories in people’s lives. Decked out in witchy wear, and seeming to float among the car trunks turned candy stations, the self-proclaimed queen of Halloween saw dozens of stories unfold on Sunday — Dustin’s first foray into planning an event being one of them.

She said events like the Trunk or Treat don’t require a lot money.

“It just takes a lot of heart, and this will all be part of their story as they become adults and if they have kids they can say they were a part of this,” DeSoto said.

Just like in October of 2020, the Drive-Through Trunk or Treat drew scores of families from across the region to the parking lot of the E.J. Prescott headquarters in the Libby Hill Business Park.

A masked Logan Perry serves candy Sunday during the Gardiner Halloween celebration. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Trunk-or-Treat initiative was developed last year as a way to retain a treasured holiday tradition, even as the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted school and holiday events across the state. As the pandemic still affects life in Maine, the Interact Club and the Jobs for Maine Graduates Club (JMG) decided to organize the event once again.

“We’re very happy to be able to host this and bring the Trunk-or Treat back, especially in the world we’re in where a lot these things aren’t happening,” Skye Cotnoir, president of the Gardiner Area High School Interact Club, said, noting that she and her fellow organizers had amassed about 10,000 pieces of candy, and planned to deploy parents to acquire more if they were to run out.

Cotnoir and Kennedy Burditt, both 17 and both seniors, were stationed at a Lilo-&-Stitch-themed vehicle. Cotnoir, costumed as Lilo, wore a Hawaiian shirt borrowed from her father and a faux-grass skirt; while Burditt, decked out in blue fleece, was Stitch.

“We try to put a smile on their faces, stay positive and stay in character and make the children feel special,” Cotnoir said.

“It’s nice seeing all the kids dressed up this, because they are just happy,” Burditt said.

Chuck Collins and Kelly Cote traveled from Randolph to bring their young grandson Dallas McCutcheon for a round of treats in the parking lot — and that started the story of Halloween for another generation.

“It’s beautiful they did this for the community,” Cote said from the back of their SUV, where she was sitting with Dallas.

“We’re getting a lot of cars,” Dustin said satisfied, a little more than an hour into the four-hour event.

With the rules for the Trunk or Treat worked out in advance — designated slow-speed driving lanes, masks for everyone — the event ran smoothly as vehicle after vehicle made the loop to procure candy.

Keelan Karajiozis holds onto her hat Sunday as the wind blows while she serves candy during the Gardiner Halloween celebration. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

In preparation, Dustin had to approach E.J. Prescott CEO Peter Prescott to request official permission to use the parking lot. She was also tasked with writing up a proposal and presenting it to high school principal Chad Kempton for approval.

After that came time to put together the displays and costumes for the event, for which DeSoto reached into her large stash of Halloween items.

“What I love is they all took ideas to make the backdrops,” DeSoto said, pointing out a pickup transformed with painted cardboard for a generous taste of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, and the tyrannosaurus rexes at the Jurassic-Park-themed vehicle.

“They are an amazing group of young adults,” she said of the teenagers. “Hopefully, through Interact and JMG, we’re teaching how to connect with their community. When a lot of people do a little, it makes a huge difference.”

Gardiner Area High School students serve children candy Sunday during the Gardiner Halloween celebration. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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