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Burton Butler's Stock of Stuffed Animals Instead of Sweets is a House Trick-or-Treaters Don't Want to Miss

For the past 24 years, the Alto resident has filled his home with donated and purchased stuffed animals for Halloween giveaways in lieu of candy. Kids can’t seem to get enough.

There’s always that one house kids don’t want to miss on Halloween night. But giant Hershey bars are no match for what Burton Butler hands out: stuffed animals.

Between his Lomita Drive shed, basement and attic, he’s got about 600 ready to go for trick-or-treaters tonight. He’s anticipating that about 400 well-behaved children in costumes will crowd into his living room, sometimes more than 60 at a time, to select their cuddly, nonedible treat.

Some are quick about it. They walk in and grab the first thing they see.

“Others agonize over it,” Butler said. “They’ll be here for an hour and their parents are losing it.”

He also has one rule: parents aren’t allowed to pick for their kids, and he gets a kick out of seeing little children haul off stuffed animals two and three times larger than they are.

Last year he even had a young girl come back the day after Halloween and ask to exchange her stuffed animal because “it just wasn’t speaking to her.”

“Only in Mill Valley,” Butler said.

Butler, who used to own Montessori schools in Marin and the East Bay, traded his candy bowl for this new tradition 24 years ago when he grew tired of seeing students jacked up on sugar.

“The kids had to be scraped off the walls and I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

But he didn’t want to simply boycott. Instead, he sought a way to serve up a different slice of Halloween fun. He goes to garage sales throughout the year, as well as places like Goodwill, looking for new or like-new stuffed animals for the next year’s giveaway. He also gets more donations than he can handle.

Butler claims he never runs out – which is true – and impressive since every year he starts collecting from scratch. He learned the hard way not to reuse the ones that don’t get taken.

“I did that once, the first year, and the kids looked at me and said ‘you had that last year.’ So I was busted and I don’t do that any more.”

He expects the kids to start showing up around 11 a.m.  It’s usually steady throughout the day, and picks up at night.

“Between 5 and 9 p.m., especially around 8 p.m., it’s very busy here,” he said. “They literally come by the hundreds.”

A few people have been showing up so long that now they’re bringing their kids, and teenagers stand in line with two-year-olds.

“It’s amazing to see some of these football players that want their stuffed animal,” Burton said.

He’s always impressed with the way everyone conducts themselves, and it’s also a time when families who haven’t seen each other all year get a chance to catch up with one another.

They’re appreciative of it, and so am I,” he said. “It’s become a really nice community event.” 

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