Haunts for Hunger

“Time after time again, families are being forced to skip meals… Food insecurity not only affects someone’s health, but their morale and ability to function in our dynamic world,” said hauntsforhunger.org.

Haunts for Hunger is a community event hosted by Ann Arbor high schoolers Emilee Henson and Will Ellsworth. The two clear out the garage and backyard to transform Henson’s home into a frightening haunted house for ages seven and up. All they ask for admission is non-perishable goods which they donate to Food Gatherers.

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Founders of Haunts for Hunger Emilee Henson and Will Ellsworth.

Since the birth of this idea in 2014, Ellsworth and Henson decided on two levels of terror, spooky and scary. Spooky time is from 5:30pm to 7:00pm and has some higher intensity features turned off so younger kids can enjoy a fun, yet spooky, haunted house. Scary time is just that, scary. This portion is from 7:30pm to 9:00pm and features live actors, disorienting lighting and flashing lights, fog, loud sounds and claustrophobic spaces.

This year on the eve of Halloween 42 visitors arrived for spooky time and 59 visitors arrived for scary time. Halloween is always busier according to Ellsworth and Henson.

There is a safety briefing at the door before entering the haunted house to ensure that everyone is safe and has fun.

“Halloween is like our Christmas,” Ellsworth said.

The two discuss decorations and plans constantly.

“We plan year round for this,” Henson said.

They have to plan early with all the elaborate tricks they pull off throughout this haunted house. Each year it grows bigger and so do the props. With the growth in visitors they have been able to add more features such as dummies, a fog machine and more actors.

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One of the youngest actresses in the backyard.

“We have 14 live actors this year varying from third grade to 11th grade,” Ellsworth said.

This year they have three clowns, a doctor and patient, two prisoners, a bear, haunting children and more to jump out and scare any willing victims.

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Clown shrouded in fog in the maze.

This year they had about two weeks to put together the maze and backyard after Henson’s father helped clear out the garage on Oct. 13. He has one of his cars, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, on the street with a poster for Haunts for Hunger in the windshield.

“My dad works on cars so it’s cool seeing him use his passion for ours. Maybe we’ll but a skeleton in the front seat,” Henson said.

Ellsworth and Henson put in at least 45 hours each to complete the haunted house. Even with all that time invested they say it is quicker than in previous years because they have learned tricks on how to put it up faster. It also usually takes them about five hours to tear down after the event.

“My brother and I are from Flint so this event is very important to us,” Henson said. With the Flint water crisis they were also able to provide people with 300 pounds in water bottles.

“We want to start a conversation with young people that it doesn’t take much to give back,” Ellsworth said. “It doesn’t only include how much they’re eating. It affects their work and school, too.”

Halloween of 2017 they were able to donate 756 pounds of food. This year, on eve of Halloween, they have already collected over 200 pounds and are aiming to collect 900 pounds by the end of this event.

All items collected are donated to Food Gatherers and they try to collect the most requested items to help those in need. Food Gatherers recommends canned fish or meat, beef stew, meat soups, hearty soups, canned pasta, chili, beans (canned or dried), rice, baby food or formula, powdered milk, Ensure or other nutritional supplement drinks, noodles, pancake or baking mixes, cereal/oatmeal, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly (in plastic jars).

Food Gatherers also recommends non-opened personal care items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, diapers, soap, shampoo and disposable razors.

Ellsworth and Henson do fundraisers and collect pop bottles to recycle in order to continue improving their haunted house. Ellsworth also used his Eagle Scout project to raise money for their event.

The two post yard signs in the Abbot neighborhood, use the app Nextdoor, have a Facebook, Instagram and website to get the word out for this event.

“We’re trying to push boundaries so more families will come from all around. We want to share with people who do struggle with food insecurity and raise awareness,” Ellsworth said.

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Actor stares down victim.

On hauntsforhunger.org there is a volunteer section as volunteers are greatly needed to give the best experience. There are positions for set up, tear down, make up artists and actors or actresses.

With both Ellsworth and Henson in high school they have started training Henson’s younger brother on the ins and outs so he can take over when the two go off to college.

“This has become a tradition for a lot of families in the Abbot neighborhood and we want to continue doing good for the community,” Henson said.