PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) — A massive Halloween haunt to benefit the homeless built by a budding architect from the University of Florida will return to his Palm Harbor home again this year.
Andrew Long and his family started their front yard display years ago with a few Dollar Store tombstones.
It’s grown to lights, mausoleum, church props, working animatronics and more, with Long heading home from his sophomore year in Gainesville every weekend throughout October to get things ready.
“We’ve gotten ideas online. We’ve got inspiration from other people that have done it before us and we just keep on learning more and more about prop building, about building in general and we’ve just gotten better at it and it’s turned out to be a huge success so far,” Long said in 2019.
Long decided in 2018 to use everything he had built to raise money to benefit the Homeless Empowerment Program in Clearwater, an organization he had volunteered with previously. The event he and his family host on Halloween weekend is called “Haunt for HEP.”
The UF architecture student has been enhancing his passion project with new elements every year.
New to Haunt for HEP this year is what Long describes as a “grand cemetery entrance” for guests to walk through. He’s also created a new animatronic as well as a prop for his scare actors.
“We’ve got a weeping angel statue which is new for this year, so that should hopefully scare some people. And then this church, 23 feet tall, comes apart into like 20 pieces,” he explained.
This year, the haunt will have 25 scare actors to give guests a fright. There were so many volunteers, Long had to break them up into shifts through the weekend nights.
“They’re all from East Lake High School, the theater program there… and my sister’s in the theater program. She’s a senior this year, so she’ll be helping out,” Long said.
Also new this year is Haunt for HEP’s partnership with two other haunts in the Tampa Bay area, the House on the Haunted Hill Trail in Tarpon Springs and Scarehouse Pinellas in Largo. All three haunts will be giving back to the Homeless Empowerment Program.
Long said he believes his haunt raised around $5,000 last year. In the past four years, they have been raising money by donation for the charity, Long believes his family has raised over $10,000.
Long is working to make the donation process even easier for his guests by setting up a Venmo account.
“We also have a fundraiser on our Facebook page on for HEP…. we’ve already raised almost $2,000 already but people are welcome to donate if they like,” Long said. “They don’t have to, but it’s obviously appreciated and just come see it and enjoy it.”
It’s something the Homeless Empowerment Program is grateful for.
“HEP is thrilled for this continued partnership with Andrew and the Long Family. It’s inspiring to see this fantastic haunted attraction, now in its fourth Halloween season, expand each year in support of our organization and the homeless individuals and families we serve,” HEP said in a statement. “Thanks to Andrew’s passion, Haunt for HEP raises thousands of dollars during this spooktacular one-weekend-per-year event to help homeless men, women, children and veterans achieve self-sufficiency and take back their lives.”
Haunt for HEP will take place Oct. 29 through Oct. 31 from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at 3425 Brian Road S in Palm Harbor.
Long also has a YouTube channel where he posts videos of how he builds his animatronics and props.
He also has big Halloween plans for the future at UF.
“I’m trying to get a on campus haunted house to come to life, so that’s in the works right now,” Long said. “Trying to get the different organizations to come through, the different schools, like the school of theater, dance, architecture programs, and then a few other clubs, to come together and hopefully form an on-campus haunted house, so this stuff we may be able to use it for that.”