The town of Taos in partnership with local merchants has announced a Grab and Go Halloween event in the Taos Historic District.

Town of Taos merchants and local businesses that would normally participate in the annual Halloween event downtown have been impacted by the pandemic and in accordance with New Mexico Department of Health guidelines and recommendations, they are instead hosting a drive-through event along Civic Plaza Drive, providing a safe and free Halloween for "children of all ages," according to a press release from the town.

We spoke with Mitch Miller, the town's director of facilities and events, about the event.

Can you tell us a little about this Grab and Go event the town is hosting on Halloween?

The COVID crisis has left the community without the usual activities that our kids and families normally enjoy through the summer and now its impact is being felt through the fall and winter. Taos Youth Flight was grounded, Touch-a-Truck was parked, the Movies and Music on the Green series was canceled and, of course, Wet 'n' Wild Easter was all dried up!

All of our events are sponsored by town merchants, local community volunteers and the town of Taos. We realized, through many calls, emails and queries that we had (and wanted) to do something. Halloween has grown from humble beginnings to one of the major events of the year, and to let it die because of the virus was unacceptable.

"Grab and Go" is the result of the brainstorming of ideas between Rick Bellis (town manager) and Judy Esquibel (events planner), who were behind the town's efforts earlier this year, to offer a little something, with Enos Garcias' lunch program, by providing crafts, games, popcorn and cotton candy to be delivered with school lunches once a week.

Both explored other community planned Halloween activities and realized that the town of Taos could bring all elements together to create a memorable Halloween 2020. Merchants, volunteers and town staff were eager and hopeful to participate in an event that focuses on fun, children and the young at heart.

The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. Taos Ski Valley, Walmart, Walgreens, Smith's, Albertson's, Super Save, to name but a few, jumped on board from the very beginning. The town committed funding and staff to ensure a grand event. Cash and a mountain of other donations flowed in. Judy Esquibel has worked tirelessly with each individual, entity and group to coordinate all facets of preparation and the tiniest of details for the event's success. It truly is a community effort.

On Halloween, along Civic Plaza Drive, starting at 2 p.m. you can expect to see community leaders, merchants and volunteers ready to safely give out over 2,500 candy and treat-filled bags. Along with traditional Halloween offerings, the bags will have games and crafts, school supplies and other surprises. The COVID Mask Contest information will be in each bag as well.

We are expecting a large turnout and will have security and Taos Police on hand to direct traffic, ensure safe and social distancing and to keep things moving. We are asking attendees to travel north on Camino de la Placita to Paseo del Pueblo Norte then south to Civic Plaza Drive.

We are creating a special event lane along Paseo to ensure the flow of southbound traffic arriving on Civic Plaza Drive. You'll be given a number directing you to a specific Grab and Go tent staffed with volunteers who will safely deliver treat bags. Costumes are not required, but are really fun! We ask that children be present, in the vehicle, to receive the treat bags.

The event will end at 5 p.m. or when all the bags have been handed out. So, load 'em up and come on down!

Every precaution will be taken to ensure the bags are safe and minimally handled. Mask, gloves and disinfectant measures will be maintained throughout the receiving, packaging and delivery process.

You are also hosting an online mask-making contest - can you talk a little about that?

Just for fun, we are having a Mask Decorating Contest for kids, families and pets. The idea is to be creative and silly and show your aspiring talent. Masks will be available in the Grab and Go treat bags being handed out on Halloween, but any mask will do. There is no limit to creativity, so this is the time to let your imaginative juices flow.

There will be prizes for the first 200 entrants. Masks will be highlighted on the town's Website and Facebook pages. We've asked several community members to provide their ideas for inspiration which can be viewed on the town of Taos website as well. Go to taosgov.com and click the events tab.

As we head into the winter and COVID cases continue to rise here in New Mexico, can we expect more like this event through the season that will make the holidays somewhat special for the kids in our community?

We are going to weigh the success of the Halloween event to consider a similar activity with Santa, but we are cautious in our considering any holiday activities. We do not anticipate any congregational or scheduled events this year.

There will be a Christmas tree on the plaza, banners and streetlight decorations throughout the town, and we are working on other holiday-themed decoration ideas for the plaza and Kit Carson Park. Activities that can be enjoyed from your vehicle.

Of course, the Mayor's New Year's Eve Dinner and Show have been canceled on the plaza as well. I have heard a rumor that town manager Rick Bellis is cooking up some ideas to ring in the New Year. We will keep you posted!

As Miller noted, the town is also hosting an online COVID-themed Mask Decorating Contest for children ages 3 to 12, teens, families and pets. The contest is designed for everyone to have fun and be creative. The first 170 children and teens registered will receive a treat bag provided by Sun Loans Company. To participate you can register on taosgov.com. Mask submissions will be accepted through Nov. 15. Instructions are provided on the contest website. Winners will be contacted directly.

The entrance to the Grab and Go will be a special lane on the southbound side of Paseo del Pueblo Norte on the corner of Civic Plaza Drive and Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Once you have received your treats, vehicles will then exit at the corner of Camino de la Placita and Civic Plaza Drive. Civic Plaza Drive will be one-way traffic for this event only.

No parking will be allowed along Civic Plaza Drive and on the southbound side of Paseo del Pueblo Norte, starting north from El Pueblito Lodge down to Civic Plaza Drive during the day on Saturday (Oct. 31).

For more information, call Judy Esquibel at (575) 751-2037, or contact her via e-mail at jesquibel@taosgov.com.

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