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Students of Santa Fe’s zoo animal technology program dressed as pirates and passed out candy during Boo at the Zoo in 2017.

An annual local Halloween event has been cancelled thanks to the haunting realities of COVID-19.

The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo announced Monday that its 2020 Boo at the Zoo event, a family-friendly trick-or-treat gathering for the Gainesville community, has been canceled due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The event was previously scheduled for Oct. 31. It typically draws in about 5,000 attendees and canned goods for donation.

“We just didn’t feel there was any way that we could protect our animals, our students and our guests and still have the nature of the event,” said Jade Salamone, the conservation education curator at the zoo.

However, even though the event isn’t happening this year, the zoo and its community partners still plan to organize a food drive, Salamone said. More information about it will become available in the next few weeks and the zoo’s goal will be to collect around 5,000 canned items. 

Boo at the Zoo provides Santa Fe students seeking a degree in zoo animal technology the opportunity to interact with visitors and decorate the zoo with themed sections, such as Frozen and Scooby-Doo, Salamone said. Last year, more than 63,000 pieces of candy were handed out.

Admission is free, but each attendee is asked to bring a canned food item. The donations are then split between Gainesville Harvest at Santa Fe College and the Catholic Charities Gainesville, Salamone said. 

The event was started 26 years ago by Santa Fe students who wanted to support their community through the food collection. 

“It’s a great community activity that will be very much missed,” said John Barli, regional director of Catholic Charities Gainesville.

The contribution from Boo at the Zoo is one of the largest donations that Catholic Charities Gainesville receives throughout the year, Barli said. It happens at a very opportune time because it is something the non-profit looks forward to in order to prepare for Thanksgiving. 

The donations that Gainesville Harvest has received from Boo at the Zoo in the past has usually been enough to sustain the food pantry through to at least the following summer, said Kerry Chancey, co-director of Gainesville Harvest at Santa Fe College.

“I’ve been very pleased with Santa Fe’s altruistic view,” Chancey said. “We see ourselves all connected to the same mission, and that’s to feed people who are hungry.”

“Right now, we need everyone in the community to rise and help each other,” Salamone said.

Sections of the zoo will still be decorated with Halloween-themed sections by zookeeping students during October, similar to previous years, said Jot Gault, a 26-year-old Santa Fe zoo animal technology student. 

“We’re doing everything to bring the zoo to all the people that can’t be here in person,” Gault said.

Engagement opportunities for the public will include the continuation of their #BringingTheZooToYou hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and a Facebook Live every Monday in October at 10 a.m. for the #EnrichmentMonday hashtag. 

The hashtags will contain Halloween-themed content with zookeepers and some of the zoo’s nearly 200 animals, including otters, tortoises and parrots.

“We’re making sure that that month we’re really bringing a lot of educational content for people to enjoy and get in the spirit of Halloween,” Salamone said.

The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo has been closed since mid-March, but it may re-open to the general public within the next month, she said. 

“We just really appreciate our support from our community during the time that we’ve been closed and everyone’s understanding of us canceling Boo at the Zoo,” she said.