Halloween House for the Hungry feeds fear

Andy and Joanne Kalischefski continue community tradition


This year, the Halloween House for the Hungry drew inspiration from the real Island of the Dolls. (E. Armstrong)

By Ellie Armstrong

On the side of the house at 9731 Chetwood Drive in Huntley, Illinois, worn-down dolls hang eerily from a fence and an old lady sitting in a rocking chair sings a threatening version of “Row, row, row your boat.” Some dolls are missing limbs, while others cast their mud-caked eyes toward the graveyard scene in the front yard, where a rabid dog jumps out at feet stomping their way toward a giant skeleton as “Halloween” music plays over fog-covered speakers.

The most impressive element of the display is not any ghoulish Halloween decoration, though; it is the sign accompanying a collection box and donation bin brimming with cans of beans and boxes of pasta.

“100% of proceeds go to the Grafton Food Pantry,” it reads.

Since 2009, Andy and Joanne Kalischefski have put together an annual haunted house in their corner lot. 

“It’s fun to see people always come by and say hello,” Joanne said. “Our favorite part is seeing those people every day.”

The Halloween House for the Hungry is for all ages and members of the community. It will be on display through this Monday, Nov. 1, after which all donations will be boxed up and sent to the food pantry. 

“[The display] is scary enough to get a horror-movie lover’s attention, but it’s not scary enough for a child to not be able to walk past it,” said Sarah Biernat, neighbor and HHS Class of 2018 alumna. 

The secret behind each detailed element is Joanne’s craftsmanship. To create the tombstones, she paints foam boards and uses a Dremel tool to mark the clever epitaphs. Joanne made the fence around the yard too, attaching wood to PVC pipes. The result is a realistic graveyard scene that grows each year. 

“To me, this is more like artwork,” Joanne said.

“We go more for the look than the scare,” Andy said. “This is [a haunted house] where anyone can come.”

The setup for this year’s display began mere weeks into September when the couple researched the Island of the Dolls, an island in the Xochimilco channels in Mexico that they heard about on “Ghost Adventures.” 

Their depiction is nearly identical to photos of the real island with decapitated dolls hanging from trees or rooted into the ground. Visitors are invited to leave their own dolls on the scene.

After three weeks of assembly, the display was ready to be opened to the public at the start of October.

“When we saw it, I was like, wow,” visitor Ellie Michaels said. “I was just really amazed, and I really like the cause.”

For the past five years, they have promoted their haunted house to collect donations for struggling local families.

“We were at church one day and heard a message that if you do something small, it might seem small to you, but it might be big for someone else,” Andy said.

The Kalischefskis’ goal is to help as much as possible. They keep records of previous years’ collections to see how this year measures up. So far, it has already broken their records, and they are guaranteed to double their monetary donations due to a partnership with AMSCO Distributing.

“It has really blossomed,” Joanne said.

To check out the display, visitors can park and walk along the sidewalk and driveway or drive by to see the lights and donate from a less-frightening distance. Though the haunted house is meant to send shivers down one’s spine, the cause behind it warms the heart as community members who donate are directly helping others in need.

“They’re such kind people. It’s just great because there’s a lot of hate in the world, [but] then every year since I was little, they’ve always done this,” Biernat said.