Sometimes it’s best to jump in feet first, and last week, I had the chance.

The start of my third week at Candy Industry took me to New Orleans for my first ECRM Candy Planning show. When Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak and former Managing Editor Crystal Lindell briefed me a couple weeks before, they compared it to speed dating, since I’d have just 10 to 20 minutes at each appointment.

It sounded intense, but I really had no idea.

I found myself hustling from room to room to make the 52 meetings I had scheduled over three days. My personal fitness tracker said I racked up thousands of steps by traveling from one end of the convention center to the other.

The show did more for me than just boost my step count, however. It served as a crash course in the confectionery industry. I learned emerging trends, who the players are and more of what I can expect down the road.

Fortunately, the participating sellers, buyers and I won’t be the only people to benefit from the three-day bonanza. At the end of the show, 300 boxes of unspoken-for candy were donated to Boo at the Zoo, an annual fundraiser hosted by the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and the nearby Audubon Zoo.

Over two weekends in October, children 12 years old and younger can partake in trick-or-treating, a ghost train, a haunted house, games, entertainment and more. All games and treats, except for concessions, are free with admission.

Lynnsey Belsome, Children’s Hospital development coordinator, says the program, which draws 20,000 people to the zoo each year, relies on candy and monetary donations largely collected by schools. However, local efforts have been focused of late on major flooding around Baton Rouge, reducing contributions to Boo at the Zoo.

Belsome called the donated candy - enough to fill a 17-ft. box truck - a “godsend,” since the funds that would’ve gone toward purchasing candy can instead go toward providing services at the hospital and zoo.

“I was floored when I saw how much was donated,” Belsome says. “It was just unbelievable - the generosity of everyone there. The kids are going to be thrilled.”

It’s not unusual for ECRM to donate product after shows, says Rachel Shultz, marketing and communications manager. She notes ECRM has a long history of working with Operation Shoebox, a nonprofit organization that sends personal care items, food, stationery and other items to military service members all over the world.

However, Shultz says, if Operation Shoebox can’t take or pick up extra product, ECRM looks for other worthy causes in the area where the show is held.

“Knowing that this product will be delivered to people in need is a truly great feeling,” Shultz says.

Belsome says Boo at the Zoo brings in about $300,000 annually, which helps the hospital in its mission to provide care to children, regardless of their families’ ability to pay. The funds also help the Audubon Zoo offer a fun and safe atmosphere for visitors and the animals.

“It means the world to us,” Belsome says. “We really appreciate it.”

While the ECRM show was useful to its guests - including me - it’ll also make Halloween sweeter for the children of New Orleans.