Four years ago, Stephanie Interbartolo decided to turn the vacant lot next to her Harlem brownstone into a haunted garden, filled with inflatable monsters, spider webs, and artificial fog.
The self-proclaimed “Halloween junkie,” who grew up in Boston, wanted to provide an alternative to kids who would otherwise spend the day trick-or-treating in apartment buildings or at local businesses.
This year, however, her famed Halloween Haunted Garden won’t adorn the block at 122nd Street and Manhattan Avenue due to ongoing construction on a neighboring brownstone. But Interbartolo is still looking for opportunities to help her younger neighbors have a better Halloween.
In the past, Interbartolo and Gina Raps, her friend and neighbor, collected costume donations from friends and acquaintances, just in case a child came along who looked like he or she might need a new one. But this year Interbartolo is branching out, opening donations to the general public and working with local nonprofits to make sure that every child in her neighborhood can have a properly costumed Halloween.
“I love pulling people together and I love seeing people responding positively,” Interbartolo said. “Everyone is so willing to pitch in.”
As of Tuesday, she had already collected 100 costumes—a new record for her. She has been working with the Children’s Aid Society, a local women’s shelter, and a preschool to distribute them.
Her favorites include M&M costumes complete with little white gloves, a baby-sized chick outfit covered in feathers and sequins, and four detailed iguana costumes donated by a mother of quadruplets.
“It’s inspiring to see people take the lead like this,” Patricia Saydah, a Harlem resident who donated a bag of costumes to Interbartolo, said. “I saw it listed on DNAinfo and I read it, and I was like, this is brilliant.”
Both Saydah and Interbartolo called Harlem the perfect place for this kind of project.
“It resonated with me, because it is a great community,” Saydah said.
“Everyone is so friendly here,” Interbartolo said. “I was moved by how many people contacted me.”
Interbartolo doesn’t have children of her own, but she has plenty of stories to tell about the kids in her neighborhood. She fondly remembers an 11-year-old boy who came to the garden one year, squeezed into a 99-cent toddler’s costume. She offered him a new outfit and he ended up staying the entire evening, leading younger kids on tours around the garden.
At the end of the night, Interbartolo sent him home with a giant bag of candy, and that’s when she decided to start collecting costumes.
As for her own motivations, Interbartolo is modest. “My halo is not that shiny—I do it selfishly because I love helping kids,” she said. “I don’t have children but I’m children-centric—I probably never grew up!”