While some dentists loathe Halloween candy for its potential harm to teeth, a dental office in Apple Valley plans to use the sugary treats to put smile on the faces of American military members.
Father-and-son doctors Gregory and Vincent Olafsen said they and their staff at Elite Dental are participating in an annual and popular Halloween candy buy-back program.
Candy collected by the Elite Dental crew will go to the nonprofit Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to U.S. service members deployed state-side and around the world, according to Rachelle Olafson, Gregory Olafsen’s wife.
“We know there are families out there with piles of candy that probably won’t be eaten,” Rachelle Olafsen told the Daily Press. “We’re giving visitors $1 for every pound of candy they donate to us.”
Kids who bring in Halloween candy will also be entered into a drawing for prizes, according to Rachelle Olafsen, who encouraged families to write letters or draw pictures for the troops, which will be shipped to them with the candy.
“All of our donated candy is usually shipped overseas, but this year all of our chocolate candy will be donated to local veterans homes, like the one in Barstow,” she said.
Gregory Olafsen said he’s pleased that Elite Dental can give back to the troops and the community through Operation Gratitude.
“I don’t know if the troops need the candy, but I’m use it’ll put a smile on their faces and make their lives a little bit better,” he said.
Grabbing two handfuls of candy, Vincent Olafsen, 24, said he has wanted to work alongside his father since he was 7.
“Being a dentist in the office is kind of a dream come true,” said Vincent Olafsen, who graduated from dental school in 2020. “It’s been an inspiring journey, and I’m glad to be where I am now.”
An admitted “candy junkie” who has a fondness for NERDS, Rachelle Olafsen said trick-or-treaters up to age 18 can donate candy at Elite Dental in Apple Valley from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday and 7 a.m to noon every Friday.
“During our first year in 2013, we received about seven pounds of candy,” Rachelle Olafsen said. “But after word got out, we brought in about 80 pounds of candy the following year.”
Last year, however, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Elite Dental’s tradition took a hit, she said.
“It was an intense time for everyone but we managed to stay open,” Rachelle Olafsen said. “While some patients were quarantined and didn’t come in, we served a lot of patients whose doctors had shut their offices.”
Despite the additions, regular appointments decreased, which forced the Olafsens to let go of much of their office staff, Rachelle Olafsen said.
“We’re back on our feet, and we’ve kind of gotten back to a bit of normalcy,” she said. “Collecting candy is part of us returning to normal.”
Stacey Bronson, 33, told the Daily Press that her family plans to donate much of the candy her children received over the last week from several trunk-or-treats and Halloween parties.
“For my kids, the fun was in dressing up and attending the Halloween festivals and parties,” said Bronson, who lives in Victorville. “They told me they’ll eat some of their favorite candy but will gladly donate the rest.”
In 2020, Operation Gratitude delivered more than 93,000 pounds of candy to military members and first responders while raising $17,800, the nonprofit reported.
The nonprofit also distributes packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters to children of deployed service members, veterans, first responders, “wounded warriors” and their caregivers.
Since 2003, the organization has sent out just over 3.3 million care packages. For more information on Operation Gratitude, visit www.OperationGratitude.com.
Elite Dental is located at 12291 Apple Valley Road in the Stater Bros. shopping center.
Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.