Getting Scared for a Good Cause HAUNTS FOR HUNGER CELEBRATES ITS FIFTH YEAR scaring kids and collecting food for Washtenaw County.

By Wm. Henry Schirmer

Will Ellsworth, a junior at Greenhills School, stands at the exit of a haunted house. He watches as kids run out, begging their parents to let them go through again. This was not a normal haunted house, but a charity event put together by Ellsworth and his longtime friend, Emilee Henson. As Ellsworth said, It is the smiles of these kids that make all of their work worth it.

The idea began when they were in seventh grade; they wanted to take their love for Halloween and turn it into something that would help the community around them. Their final plan was Haunts for Hunger.

Haunts for Hunger is a charity haunted house in the Abbott neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Their goal is to help relieve food insecurity in Washtenaw County. Ellsworth also hopes the house will start conversation among families about food insecurity.

People dressed in costume gather in front of 755 Kuehnle St.. With them they bring food donations as their admission into the haunted house. "I always enjoy seeing people going through the haunted house time after time after time again, and families who have come year after year, and tell us about how much [the house] has changed and how much they're looking forward to the next year," Ellsworth said.

Unlike most haunted houses, Haunts for Hunger does not cost money to enter.

“In order to get into the haunted house, it is suggested that your family brings a food donation,” Ellsworth said. “The food is kind of like your admission into the haunted house.”

All the food collected over the two nights of scares is donated to Food Gatherers. “[Haunts for Hunger] provides food donations to individuals who are food insecure in our county,” Ellsworth said. “Food insecurity is a widespread issue and it does not just inhibit a family's health, but also changes how students perform in school, how people perform in the workplace [and] how much money is being brought into the home. It's such an intersectional issue that we're fortunate to have the privilege to help solve.”

"[The first year] we raised about 100 pounds of food," Ellsworth said. "It was just a small little thing that we were trying to figure out. The next year, we raised 200 pounds of food. And then our third year it grew exponentially. We raised 700 pounds of food that year."

Ellsworth believes Haunts for Hunger helps start this discussion. “We're starting a conversation in our community that doing good can be a fun thing,” Ellsworth said. “Every single young person in our community can do good if they put the work into it.”

Ellsworth and Henson put roughly 45 to 60 hours of work in the two weeks leading up to Halloween. This time is spent building the haunted house and all that it contains, the planning begins even sooner. They get help from volunteers and other students wishing to get in volunteer hours.

“That's what makes me so happy,” Ellsworth said. “It's making people think about their impact on other people's lives.” At the ending of each night, Ellsworth said he only had one feeling, and that feeling is pride.

An actor pretends to get sawed apart while resting on an operating table. "On an average night we have about 10 live actors, with full costume and full makeup on," Ellsworth said. "Everything you would expect at a professional haunted house you're paying money to go to, except all of the actors are volunteers."

Haunts for Hunger made its initial debut in 2014. “It was four rooms separated by black plastic and minimal decorations,” Ellsworth said. “We had maybe three actors in the whole thing and no outdoor area. We got maybe 50 people over two nights coming to the house.” That year Haunts for Hunger raised around 100 pounds of food. “It was just a small little thing we were trying to figure out. From there, it grew pretty exponentially.”

On the night of the event, Ellsworth begins his work around 4 p.m.. “I’ll turn off the lights and get the fog machines warmed up,” Ellsworth said. “We'll do a safety check of everything. Then we opened up for Spooky Time at 5:30 p.m.. We have little kids who come in, and we put on fun Halloween music and we have skeletons in place [of] where the actors might be.”

At around 6:30 p.m., the actors start showing up. “We get them in a wide range of costumes,” Ellsworth said. “We have these Tyvek suits, which have been spray-painted and bloodied up with fake blood, and prisoner jumpsuits, and there is makeup to go with all of this.” The ‘monsters’ are released at 7:30 p.m. beginning what is called Scary Time. “This is when the line really begins to form,” Ellsworth said.

Will Ellsworth (top) and Emilee Henson (bottom right) apply fake blood and makeup to volunteers. The actors will also be supplied with costumes before they are released into the house at 7:30 p.m..

In 2016, Ellsworth used Haunts for Hunger as his Eagle Scout project. “That year it pretty much exploded in people and in size,” Ellsworth said, adding that the house raised 700 pounds of food that year.

This will be the fifth year of Haunts for Hunger. “[This year] it's just going to be a mishmash of everything that we've done,” Ellsworth said. “[We’re] trying to show the history of the organization so far.” Along with the original four rooms, Ellsworth and Henson have added three tents in the backyard, as well as a giant cemetery that features homemade tombstones and fog.

“We want to make it better each year,” Ellsworth said. “There's definitely going to be some surprises in store for everybody who comes to us for this year.”

Ellsworth and Henson have a goal: “If we could bring in 1000 pounds of food this year, that would be fantastic,” Ellsworth said. “Last year we had about 400 people show up. We hope we can get up to 600 people this year.”

"[Haunts for Hunger] starts from nothing, and then becomes this wonderful thing that's on show for two days," Ellsworth said. "Then we tear it down and we start thinking about next year."

This year, Haunts for Hunger will run on Oct. 30 and 31. There is a “Spooky Time” from 5:30–7 p.m. with no actors, and a “Scary Time” from 7:30–9 p.m. with live actors. The house is located at 755 Kuehnle St, Ann Arbor, MI.

“Get scared for a good cause,” Ellsworth said.

For more information regarding Haunts for Hunger, please visit www.hauntsforhunger.org, or find them on their Instagram, @hauntsforhunger.


Photos Courtesy of Will Ellsworth

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