Thousands of candy-craving, costume-clad children went trick-or-treating at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo on Monday.
At Santa Fe’s 22nd-annual Boo at the Zoo, about 6,000 kids and their parents walked a mile-long trail through the zoo, collecting free candy from dressed-up gatekeepers.
The trail was transformed into 14 themed areas, including “Toy Story,” “Jurassic Park,” “Scooby Doo” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”
Dressed as a sorceress, 9-year-old Lily Ho walked along the trail in awe that her favorite fictional characters seemed to be coming to life.
“I liked the villains,” the third-grader said. “I saw Maleficent and Ursula. There was also like a squirrel monkey.”
The event was conceived by students in Santa Fe’s Zoo Animal Technology Program more than two decades ago as a way to give back to the community. In place of an admission fee, attendees were asked to donate a single canned good. The cans collected were then given to Gainesville Harvest and Catholic Charities, which feed students and families in need, said Jade Salamone, a conservation education specialist at Santa Fe.
“We give a magical Halloween experience to kids, and we are also helping the community by donating canned goods,” Salamone said.
Some of the zoo’s animals — a baby box turtle and Asian small-clawed otters among the lot — greeted guests at the event, which also featured performances by Danscompany of Gainesville and a play area sponsored by Fun 4 Gator Kids.
“I love this event,” said Kathy Stewart, the founder and owner of Fun 4 Gator Kids. “I’ve come every year since my kids were little — this is great.”