Anoka leaders are urging the city’s Halloween committee to reverse its recent candy ban for this year’s Grand Day Parade, a rule change that has stoked raucous debate on social media and beyond.

City Council members earlier this week approved sending a letter that outlines their concerns to Anoka Halloween, Inc., the all-volunteer nonprofit that puts on the annual festival and its three parades.

Anoka officials wrote that they were “very disappointed” to hear of the new changes, which parade organizers say stem from safety concerns over kids darting toward moving vehicles to scoop up stray sweets.

“I do want to bring candy back, but we have to figure out a way to be safe,” Liz McFarland, the festival’s parade chairwoman, said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “It is not fun to see kids come close to being hit by a car.”

McFarland says the parade’s attendance growth has increased the need for volunteers to help keep onlookers safe along the route, but city officials are pushing for an alternative to prohibiting candy handouts.

Their letter argues that the brouhaha over the ban has negatively affected Anoka’s image as well as perceptions of its family-friendly parades — the “biggest attraction during Halloween season” in a place known as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”

“It would be like trick-or-treating and going to the door and getting a vitamin pill instead of candy,” said Council Member Mark Freeburg. “You’ve gotta have candy.”

Event organizers say they have tried other candy rules in years past, including restricting candy to certain sections of the parade and allowing only handouts from those walking along the route near the curbs, to increase safety.

“I know that we’ll figure out a solution,” McFarland said.

Council Member Brian Wesp pointed out Monday that this isn’t Anoka’s first time battling through a parade-related challenge. He recalled an incident decades ago when an onlooker was killed in an accident involving a parade vehicle.

Nearly 100-year tradition

“I’m hoping we can work through this also,” Wesp said. “We’re going on nearly 100 years with this tradition.”

City leaders also have offered to help recruit more volunteers.

“You’ve given us a strong wake-up call,” Mayor Phil Rice told McFarland. “We’re all motivated to work with you.”

Anoka Halloween Inc. has scheduled an open house and picnic at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Peninsula Point Park, 1460 S. Ferry St. The event is being billed as a chance to learn more about the nonprofit and sign up to volunteer at this year’s festivities, including the parades.