Neighbors bond over food, games for National Night Out
Rain threatened to dampen festivities, but it could not stop residents from dozens of communities around York County from filling streets and parks for National Night Out.
National Night Out started in the early 1980s as a way to bring together police and the neighborhoods they serve, giving residents a chance to see uniformed officers in a different light.
York City Police officers and firefighters stopped by the Salem Square neighborhood’s celebration at Lincoln Charter School, mingling with residents and playing ring toss with kids while McGruff the Crime Dog posed for photos with others.
Trooper Katelin Hummel, of Pennsylvania State Police Troop H, said the annual event gives officers and residents a chance get to know each other as people who work and live together.
Most people have limited interactions with police and base their judgments on what they see in the media, but by holding this type of event where police aren’t so guarded, “it makes them feel more comfortable to talk to us,” Hummel said.
Stopping by a block party on the first block of South Penn Street, Gerardo Rivera, 50, said he came to "get acquainted" with police officers and his neighbors.
Though Rivera said the York City Police Department's reputation isn't "perfect" among city residents, he gave officers credit for always communicating openly and earnestly with him.
Most people in the city judge police officers without making an attempt to get to know them, Rivera said, before trying to share some advice with his neighbors on how to approach officers.
"I don't look at the uniform. I look at the person wearing the uniform," Rivera said.
Local outreach: Though the event started out as a way to build relationships between police and communities, it has since expanded to a night for community outreach of all kinds.
Outside Union Lutheran Church in York City, volunteers from the church and the Lehman Center fired up a grill and set up tables, handing out food and small household essentials to anyone walking by.
Carla Christopher, a prominent community activist in York City, said the event is an opportunity for residents and community-service organizations to remove the barriers that often discourage people from seeking help.
Eric Chase, executive director and CEO of the Children's Aid Society, which runs the Lehman Center, said some of those who need help are afraid to reach out, so giving out meals in the middle of the street makes it much easier for them to approach someone about their issues.
"If folks are afraid to walk through the doors (of community-service organizations), then they're not going to take the first step," Christopher said. "So it's up to us to take the first step, to go out into the community, to set our tables up — literally right in the street — and say, 'Absolutely, we're here. Our door's open. Our hearts are open. Our hands are open.'"