Operation Gratitude's Halloween Candy Buy-back to combat tooth decay, support troops

Friday, October 21, 2011 | 4:10 p.m. CDT; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 22, 2011

COLUMBIA — For the third year in a row, Columbia children can trade their Halloween candy in for dollars as part of Operation Gratitude’s Halloween Candy Buy-back

Operation Gratitude is a nonprofit, volunteer-based group that sends care packages to troops overseas. Keene Dental Care, 811 N. Keene St., is $1 for eachpound of candy offering children 12 and under bring in. Candy can be dropped off from 4 to 7 p.m., on Nov. 1. 

Children will also receive a goody bag with gift certificates from local restaurants, a toy and a toothbrush, and they can register for a door prize.

“It’s kind of a win-win. The kids get money and prizes for the candy that they don’t really need anyway and then the candy gets used for a good purpose,” owner of Keene Dental Care Johnathan Mallott said.

Mallott served in Baghdad, Iraq, for a year as the brigade dental surgeon for the 506th Regimental Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.

“I know what getting those little pieces of home in the care packages means, how much that brightens your day,” Mallott said, “So for me it made sense, and it was something good to do for the community and the troops.”

Mallott said the soldiers not only eat the candy but give it to the local children.

“A lot of times the soldiers use the candy to get on the good side of the kids in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mallott said.

The gifts build trust between the soldiers and the children. In some cases, that trust allows those kids to lead soldiers to insurgents.

Every year this program continues to grow, Mallott said. Two years ago, more than 100 pounds of candy were brought in. Last year at least 275 pounds were collected.

“I was interested in this because I have kids, and I see how much candy they bring home and how much candy we usually end up throwing away because we don’t eat it,” Mallott said.

But it’s not just candy that is collected. All week people of all ages can bring in non-perishable food items, toiletries, small toys, DVDs, CDs or anything they would like to have sent in the care packages. These donations will be collected until noon on Nov. 4.

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