Palos Heights Haunt Against Hunger scares up abundance of donated food

By Jessie Molloy

When the Kramer family had to come up with a community service idea for a school project four years ago, they wound up founding their own charity, Haunts Against Hunger, which strives to collect food for local families in need.

“I have always thought yard haunts were really cool, so we’ve always had a big Halloween display,” said Thom Kramer, a Palos Heights resident and founder of Haunts Against Hunger. “When we realized we were drawing such a big crowd we decided to put it with a cause.”

Looking at the Kramers’ yard it is no surprise it drew attention. At Halloween the house, nicknamed Raven’s Nest Manor, at 123rd Street and 68th Court, is surrounded by jack-o’-lanterns and life-size monsters. The scene is illuminated by a custom light show set to music broadcast through the Kramers’ own FM transmitter.

“We collected most of the decoration pieces over several years,” Thom Kramer explained. “The zombies’ heads were made for us by a mask maker (Paul Daniels of Dark Side Studios), but the rest — the mannequin bodies for the monsters, and even the coffin — we bought used off of Amazon and ebay.”

The display takes about two days to set up and two days to tear down, except for the music and light show, which he works on for a few hours each evening starting in late August, Kramer said.

Since its creation, Haunts Against Hunger has expanded to include 19 locations in Illinois, including 11 yard haunts, and partnerships with Haunted Trails in Burbank, the Plainfield Horror House, and the Hollywood Boulevard and Hollywood Palms cinemas. It has spread to include yard haunts in California, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

This Halloween the charity also got a celebrity endorsement, which led the organizers to partner with another charitable organization. Actress Linda Blair, who is best known for her Academy Award nominated performance in “The Exorcist,” took an interest in Haunts Against Hunger and partnered her World Heart Foundation, an animal rescue charity, with the local group. She appeared in a video promoting the Kramers’ charity and did a food drop-off event for them in Nevada. For their part Haunts Against Hunger began accepting donations of nonperishable pet food along with human food to send to the food pantries, so less pets would be abandoned by families who could not afford to feed them.

Each chapter chooses its own food pantry to collaborate with to help keep the experience more localized. Kramer said he hopes the organization may one day become a nationwide Halloween charity, likes Toys for Tots at Christmas.

“The economy is really bad right now, and there are 17 million households in the U.S. where people need food,” said Kramer. “We have always been fortunate and we’re grateful for what we have, so this is a great opportunity to help local families who are less fortunate.”

This Halloween, it is safe to say the Kramers made a difference. The Raven’s Nest Manor alone took in between 600 and 700 hundred pounds of nonperishable food for the Worth Food Pantry and the family plans on doing it again next year.