Ferrara Candy Co. is partnering with the Park District of Forest Park, its neighbor on Harrison Street, to provide residents of Forest Park with free bus transportation to Brookfield Zoo and free admission to the zoo’s annual Boo! at the Zoo event on Oct. 22, 23, 29, 30.

This is how it will work: An adult (18 and over) must come to the Park District building at 7501 Harrison St. at least two days before the date on which they want to participate, show proof of residency in Forest Park, and register for up to six tickets for the day the group wants to go. 

On each of the four days, a bus will leave The Park at 9:30 a.m. and drop a group of about 55 Forest Parkers off at the gate to Brookfield Zoo, where they will be greeted by a zoo staff members who will take them to an “animal encounter.” There they’ll be able to experience a zoo animal “up close and personal.”

After that, children and the adults accompanying them will be free to enjoy the zoo on their own. John Conversa, Ferrara’s director of U.S. Operations and the plant manager of the Forest Park facility, said the zoo has a special section called Boo! at the Zoo where six 10-by-8-foot “facades,” designed by Ferrara’s graphic design team will be erected. The facades depict whimsical combinations of Halloween themes, such as monsters and haunted houses, plus, of course, Ferrara candy. Picture Frankenstein holding a bag of Red Hots.

At the facades, Ferrara employees will be handing out Ferrara “trick or treat” candy — 10,000 pounds of it over the four-day event — which the children can put in the free swag bags handed out to them during the bus ride to the zoo. There will be a costume contest, a parade and photo ops with a Lemonhead character. The bus will be at the gate at 2:30 p.m. to bring everyone back to Forest Park.

The outing began with the daughter of Ferrara’s CEO, Todd Siwak, suggesting to her father that Ferrara and Boo! at the Zoo were a natural fit — Halloween, trick or treat, candy. The concept made sense to the leadership at Ferrara, which led to the company being the corporate sponsor for the program for the first time this year. 

Conversa said that because one of Ferrara’s core values is to give back to the communities in which their plants are located, he called Rachell Entler at the park district to see how his company and The Park could work together to allow Forest Park residents to take advantage of Ferrara’s sponsorship of Boo! at the Zoo. The park district, he explained, knows how to arrange the logistics of this kind of event.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” Conversa said, “and an integral part of our community and its growth. In order to fill this commitment, we have established a team to look for opportunities such as Boo! at the Zoo where we can take part in local affairs and help neighbors join in the fun.”

Entler said, “When you total up the cost of what Ferrara is giving our community, they are being very generous.” To break it down, adult admission to Boo! at the Zoo is $17.85 and admission for children is $12.50. That’s not counting paying for parking or the bus ride to the zoo, the cost of the swag bags and the animal encounter.

While talking about his company’s corporate philosophy, Conversa said that almost 300 Ferrara employees from the Forest Park and Bellwood plants or the corporate headquarters in Oak Brook will be volunteering on one of the four days of Boo! at the Zoo.

The large number of Ferrara employees volunteering, he said, is in part a reflection of the morale in his plant in particular and in the whole organization. “One of our charges as managers,” he explained, “is to keep our finger on the morale pulse of the company. We want to take care of our workers, to make them feel that what they do is relevant and that they are fairly compensated.”

Talking about Ferrara made Entler nostalgic. 

“Ferrara was part of my childhood in Forest Park,” she said with a smile. “I remember the smells. I remember the tour with the Girl Scouts. Now when we go to the Philippines to visit family, I can walk into a Seven-Eleven and see a box of Lemonheads on the shelf. People there always tell us to bring a bag of Ferrara candy along with us.”

Ferrara also has a plant in Bellwood and is doing the same thing with residents of that village. All tickets in Bellwood have been given out as of last week Friday, and if all seats on the Forest Park buses are not taken Bellwood residents will be invited to come over to The Park and join in.