Neighbors around Santa Rosa offer Halloween for kids who lost homes

Maria Philbin helps to decorate Cathy Grace Hays' McDonald Avenue home for Halloween, in Santa Rosa on Monday, October 30, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)


Kids in the fire-scarred North Coast have already experienced the scariest night of their lives.

But that doesn’t mean they need to skip Halloween. Across the region, not only families but entire neighborhoods are grabbing onto the first fun distraction since the recent fires devastated Sonoma County.

It’s part of what’s become a national obsession with the holiday.

Halloween expenditures nationally this year are expected to exceed $9.1 billion in costumes, candy, decorations and cards, according to the National Retail Federation.

This year, the local version will have a fellowship twist, particularly since the fires destroyed thousands of homes.

In the Saddlebrook community in Larkfield-Wikiup, residents are inviting children from neighborhoods devastated by fire to trick or treat, just as residents of Rincon Valley’s Austin Creek neighborhood are doing.

At the McDonald Mansion in Santa Rosa’s historic residential neighborhood, the Webley family chose not to cancel the annual Halloween production, which this year is inspired by the legendary UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico. The family felt Halloween festivities would be something local children would look forward to after so much hardship.

“Kids, no matter where they were in Sonoma County, they saw fires. Each kid experienced the fire to some degree and that’s scary,” said John Webley Jr.

Webley said the UFO and alien theme will be a less frightening experience for kids than zombies or the typical fright fare.

“Especially this year, we didn’t want to do anything too terrifying,” he said.

Monday evening, the family worked on the production, which included a 25-foot diameter flying saucer half-buried in the mansion’s front lawn, a tubular chamber with a captured alien and a laboratory scene where military scientists conduct experiments on the aliens.

The family plans to collect donations for the Redwood Credit Union’s Fire Relief Fund.

At the Austin Creek subdivision in Rincon Valley, about 100 or so families are inviting trick-or-treaters from burned out areas to walk their goblin- and ghost-decorated streets and join in a Halloween block party.

“We got very lucky,” said organizer Tina Tyko, a Schiappino Street resident. “We had fire all around us but the neighborhood survived. So we’re banding together to help all the little ones who lost their homes and still want to trick or treat.”

Nearly every house in the picture-perfect tract at the intersection of Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road will participate, starting at 5 p.m.

In addition to spooky scenery, there will be a bounce-house, games like pumpkin bowling and a live band playing kids’ music. A food truck will hand out free goodies.

With the destruction of so many homes across Santa Rosa, community members feared many kids would not have a place to go.

The realization hit Tyko as she listened to a story from a Coffey Park man at her downtown office who lost his home. He told her his granddaughter worried that because their neighborhood was destroyed, Halloween would be “canceled.”

“It just broke my heart,” she said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t right.’”

Neighbor Tara Polley helped Tyko set it all up. She said the fires have renewed a sense of community as people come together in a crisis.

“I’ve lived here since junior high school,” said Polley, a real estate agent. “To me, it feels like old Santa Rosa now. I’m on a first-name basis with more people. It just brought us closer together.”

Saddlebrook residents have organized a similar event, except there, the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District will be on hand with a fire engine.

Jeannette Messoria, who lives on Hop Ranch Circle, said she knows of 28 families who lost homes in Santa Rosa. She felt compelled to create a safe space for children affected by the fires.

Messoria said Halloween festivities in the Saddlebrook subdivision have been waning in recent years because many of the children have grown up or moved away. She’s hoping children return for some Halloween fun.

“I just want them to come here and feel safe and for people to participate,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish. You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.