A Night Out That Serves A Purpose

Families gather to battle crime and drugs

10/7/2015
Andrew Mansfield
News Correspondent, The Gardner News

GARDNER  When musician Zach Benton sang The Beatles’ “Come Together” at Tuesday evening’s National Night Out, it was not hard for the crowd to heed the advice of the song’s lyrics. 

With ideal fall weather, free pizza and popcorn, face painting and a bouncy house to keep children from screaming or squabbling, community members had every reason to stick around.

“This is a family-friendly event,” said Mayor Mark Hawke.

The Gardner Community Action Team, a community coalition that works to prevent substance abuse and underage drinking, hosted National Night Out for the third year. It took place at Monument Park.

The main purpose of the event was to not only offer children with a fun evening outside, but also to provide their parents with a chance to meet many local organizations and service agencies.

“The whole point is to bring the community together and find out more about what Gardner has to offer,” said Gardner Community Action Team Coordinator Lauren Saunders. 

The event featured resource tables that included informational brochures, which connected community members with local resources. A common theme among the represented groups was raising awareness about issues such as drug use and crime that affect community safety.

Elizabeth Haddad from the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office handed out several brochures dealing with problems facing youth such as distracted driving and sexting. 

“I can to talk to people if they have questions on child safety. We have all kinds of stuff here,” she said. 

The Gardner Police Depart­ment informed people about the DARE program and their “Lock it, don’t leave it” campaign.

“It’s about keeping your things out of sight whenever you leave your car,” said Police Explorer Advisor Mark White.

The Gardner Community Action Committee was on hand to let people know about the ways they can be a resource for help. 

“We have a food pantry and holiday programs; we have a free community meal every Thursday. It’s a great opportunity to be here,” said Director Julie Meehan. 

Ms. Meehan said the Gardner Community Action Committee also helps people in need with their rent and heating bills when funds are available, and mentioned the agency will host cooking classes later this month. 

LUK Inc., a local social service agency that is the parent organization of the Gardner Community Action Team, hosted a resource table. 

Cindy Delaney, LUK Inc. public relations specialist, said the agency helps connect people with foster care and mental health services such as therapy and mentoring, among other services. 

“It’s always really nice to get in on the ground and talk to the people we serve,” she said. 

Some of the other organizations that hosted resource tables included the Assist Educate Defeat Foundation, Next Step Living, Faith Lutheran Church and Mount Wachusett Community College. 

The event included raffle prizes such as gift certificates donated by local area businesses. The raffle tickets were given out at the resource tables, encouraging attendees to speak with local agencies and gain a chance to win the prizes. 

One highlight of the evening was the pizza contest between Garden Pizza, Gardner Ale House, Papa Gino’s and Parker House. A total of 109 people cast votes for which pizza they liked best and Parker House won.

Members of Parker House joked that they “knew we would win.” 

The event was concluded with a story walk starting at the Veterans Skating Rink and going along the Gardner Bike Path. The story walk involved postings of piece by piece sections from a children’s book along the walking route. The story walk was sponsored by the Montachusett Opportunity Council. 

Sonya Wirtanen, literacy coordinator for Montachusett Opportunity Council, chose a book by Kathryn Otoshi to display.

“It is about how the power of one can make a difference. Sometimes it is the simplest of images that tell the greatest stories,” she said. 

National Night Out was originally scheduled to take place in August when schoolchildren were on vacation, but a storm required the event to be moved to October. 

“I’m glad that even with the rescheduling we still had a good turnout,” said Ms. Saunders.

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