Trunk or treat events have grown in popularity in recent years, as families seek fun and safe alternatives to trick-or-treating door-to-door. At trunk or treats, costumed children walk through a parking lot, stopping at cars that have decorated trunks and receiving candy.

If your PTO is thinking about holding a trunk or treat event, here are the details you’ll need to consider.


Many parent groups choose to have their trunk or treat events shortly before Halloween, but not on Oct. 31, when families may want to trick-or-treat in their neighborhoods or attend other community events. It's common for schools to hold trunk or treat events on the Friday or Saturday before Halloween. Another option is to hold the event in mid-October and choose a harvest or fall theme.


When choosing a time, consider if the parking lot is lit after dark. If not, hold the event during daylight hours or plan to set up floodlights.

Ask parents planning to decorate their cars to register in advance. This will give you an idea of how much space you need to reserve for vehicles and allow you to provide instructions or guidelines to them in advance.

Ask vehicle participants to decorate their cars according to a theme and suggest that they wear a costume that goes with it. They might go with a Halloween theme and fill their trunk with mummies or pumpkins. Other popular choices include decorating with children’s TV or movie characters or setting a scene, like the old west or a campsite.

If your event will last several hours, be sure to find out if you can have access to the school restrooms. Coordinate with the appropriate staff person to make sure the doors are unlocked and locked at the proper times.

Trunk or Treat Flyer to promote your event

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Allow an hour for cars to set up before the festivities begin. Have someone on-site to direct cars to parking spaces. If possible, leave an empty parking spot between vehicles to help space out the trick-or-treating crowd.


Estimate how many trick-or-treaters will attend and how much candy will be needed. Some parent groups purchase all the candy to be handed out. You may also ask people with decorated trunks to bring candy for 100, for example, and then restock them when they run out.

Fun and Games

At many trunk or treat events, people who decorate their cars are asked to set up small, carnival-type games for kids to play, such as a ring toss or shooting a foam basketball. The games should be short and easy enough for young children to play. Children who win the game can be given small prizes or extra candy; however, all children should receive candy at each station, regardless of how they did on the game.

For more fun, consider adding a face-painting station, a craft station with a simple project, or a photo booth.


At some events, awards are given for the top decorated trunks. Others come up with their own award categories, like creepiest trunk or a people’s choice award.

Costume contests are also popular. You can gather trick-or-treaters together and have the crowd applaud for their favorite costumes. An alternative to a costume contest is to gather together all the children wearing a similar costume, such as princess dresses. Take photos of the groups of princesses, pirates, or superheroes and share the photos with families on the school bulletin board, on Facebook, or in your newsletter.


If your trunk or treat event is in the middle of the afternoon, there’s no need to provide food. If your event will be around a meal time, you may want to have volunteers grill hot dogs or hamburgers for hungry trick-or-treaters and their parents.

Whether you serve food or not, it’s a good idea to provide cups or bottles of water. All that candy will make people thirsty!


Provide trash cans in several locations for attendees to place empty candy wrappers or used water cups. Require those who decorate their cars to clean up their own space.

Theme Ideas for Trunk or Treat

  • Christmas in October
  • Hawaiian luau
  • Under the sea
  • On a farm
  • Camping
  • Football (or other sports)
  • Specific professional or college sports teams
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Children's books

Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly