Though it has laughing, sinister clowns and howling skeleton cats, the Spirit Halloween store in Evergreen boasts a far less scary mission aimed at helping Montana kids and families in need.
Each year when the spooky season rolls around, Spirit Halloween opens for seven weeks, during which time its employees work to raise money for the Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena through its Spirit of Children campaign.
About 135 Spirit Halloween branches across the country take part in Spirit of Children, a donation drive focused on raising money for each state’s local children’s hospitals.
According to Evergreen Store Manager Steve Lerum, however, the Flathead Valley community ranks among the highest in the country for giving each year, with nearly 40 percent of customers participating and donating more than $5,000 for each of the last three years.
“It all goes back to people’s willingness to give,” Lerum said. “I think Montana just has a lot of caring people willing to share.”
Haunted-house props, decorations and costumes of every kind cover the walls and floor space of the store, drawing in more and more curious eyes and excited shoppers as Halloween approaches.
Halloween falls right behind Christmas as the No. 2 consumer spending holiday, and with it, he said, comes a similar giving spirit.
“Maybe it’s a good break in terms of the stress of life. Maybe do something that you like to do, something fun. You get to dress up, be a little bit weird,” Lerum said.
Lerum opened the local Spirit Halloween — near the intersection of U.S. 2 and Montana 35 — six years ago following 30 years of service in the U.S. Air Force.
Both his son and sister also run their own branches, one in Great Falls and one in Missoula, making Halloween a family business.
Over the last five years, the six collective Spirit Halloween stores across Montana have raised a total of $121,000 through Spirit of Children.
That money goes toward sponsoring Halloween parties, sending costumes and funding other projects that will help improve the life and stay of each patient.
“It’s not for medical needs,” Lerum said. “It’s more for making that hospital stay for those kids and their families a little more pleasant.”
Last year, the six Montana stores raised enough money to fully fund a special addition to the hospital. Her name is Blue Bonnet, and she is Shodair’s new facility dog, specially trained to help both children and staff cope with their emotional needs and establish a special connection. Nicknamed “the love radiator,” Blue roams the halls of the hospital, visiting groups of children or individuals in need of a little unconditional love, according to Community Relations Director Alana Listoe.
“It’s hard not to smile when she enters a room, and I can say that for staff and patients,” Listoe said. “It’s hard to stay mad when you’ve got a cold nose on your cheek and a handful of fur.”
Following a recent visit to the Evergreen Spirit Halloween store to thank Lerum and his team for their help, Listoe emphasized the difference the campaign makes in normalizing the holidays at Shodair.
“Our relationship with Spirit Halloween has allowed us to provide a Halloween experience inside the walls of this hospital, and that’s pretty important if you’re a kid,” she said.
According to Keith Meyer, foundation director for Shodair, along with the usual Halloween festivities, money raised this year likely will be split between several needs in the hospital, potentially including gazebos and sun protection over the playgrounds, a sensory room with games and activities and a kick-start on a campaign to expand the hospital.
Meyer said he hopes to raise between $38,000 and $40,000 this year through all six stores.
In the three weeks the Evergreen store has been open this year, Lerum said they have raised over $1,500.
And it’s still early, he added.
Though the company set a goal for the store to raise $4,600 for Spirit of Children this year, Lerum said he hopes to go further and beat last year’s total of $5,600.
Six seasons have allowed Lerum to build relationships with several of the locals, several of whom he said have friends or family members who have been impacted by Shodair.
Those relationships, Lerum said, have made him confident in his community’s generosity toward their neighbors and their willingness to continue giving.
Spirit Halloween is located at 1431 Montana 35.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.