In August each year, communities across the United States meet their neighbors at National Night Out celebrations. At least, they used to.
When Ripon, Calif., had to cut its event for the second year in a row because of budget constraints, Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church stepped up. By gathering volunteers from local churches, running booths, and arranging activities, the church was able to bring the community together for this worthwhile event.
A participant competes in a watermelon-eating contest as part of Ripon’s National Night Out.
National Night Out is a nationwide crime-prevention program that seeks to bring police and fire departments in contact with community members. Dustin Hoekstra, director of ministries and community outreach for Almond Valley CRC, said, “We were looking for opportunities to meet needs in the community, and National Night Out was a significant thing for Ripon. I got interest from a number of churches before approaching the police department.”
Although initially skeptical, the police department agreed to let the churches help put on this event for the community.
More than 100 people volunteered for set up and tear down, hosting booths, and running contests. “At one point, I saw the youth group from Almond Valley, the Volunteers in Police Service, community service officers, and a homeless man working together,” said Hoekstra.
The whole ’50s-themed night was free to the community, including hot dogs, popcorn, and cotton candy. Church members volunteered and donated materials for face painting, balloon animals, and a craft table. Other activities included a watermelon-eating contest, sack and three-legged races, bingo, karaoke, a car show, dance and karate demonstrations, and bounce houses.
The Ripon police and fire departments competed in a tug-of-war contest.
“We’re already planning for next year,” said Hoekstra, “All the churches who did it said we want to do it again. We give the city a lot of labor, but in return we get buy-in in our community.”