MERIDEN — Lost in the free food, snacks, entertainment and music, hundreds of families enjoyed the 14th annual National Night Out at Hubbard Park Tuesday evening.
“Seeing all the people that come out is just really wonderful,” said Holly Wills, president of the Council of Neighborhoods and one of the organizers of the event.
National Night Out is a nationwide tradition that brings community members together with police and other emergency personnel to create bonds and camaraderie. This year’s event, hosted by the Council of Neighborhoods, Meriden police and the department’s Neighborhood Initiative Unit, included the city’s fire and police departments, Hunter’s Ambulance, state police, animal control, and city officials.
"This is a great way to work in partnership with the community," said Lt. George DelMastro, commander of the Neighborhood Initiative Unit. "They get to see us on a different level, where we can interact with them ... in a less stressful way."
The weather was sunny and humid for most of the four-hour event. About 60 civic groups and nonprofits set up tents around the park to give out free things and share their services with community members as well.
Karen Jaime, owner of WEPA Art Studio in downtown Meriden, has come out for National Night Out for several years with her family, including family from out of town. She said besides the free food, the event is a great opportunity to find out what’s going on within the community.
Among the participants was Street Soldjerz, a Meriden-based motorcycle group since the 1990s which tries to contribute “a small part in helping the city of Meriden.” The Street Soldjerz booth had a long line of kids waiting to see if they would be among the lucky first 50 that could take home with a free bike.
“I get bicycle donations throughout the year and we fix them up and make sure that they're safe for the kids to ride,” said Randall Jaworski, president of the group. “A bike is like freedom to a kid. It takes them to their friends' house and gets them out of the house.”
Jaworski said the group has been giving out donated bikes at National Night Out for at least a decade. This year’s 50 was the most they’ve ever been able to give out. Four of the bikes were brand new and raffled off.
Meriden resident Emille Rodriguez came out with her family, including her husband and 2-year-old son. She said now that her son is old enough to enjoy these types of community events, she tries to do a lot of them. She said National Night Out was a draw regardless of the free food and activities, but she appreciates the message.
“It's nice that they do stuff like this for people that can't afford it,” Rodriguez said.