by Maureen Costello
On a warm summer night, the sound of children laughing can be heard throughout the neighborhood as they race around playing games. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill permeates the air while neighbors gather in yards, catching up with old friends and introducing themselves to the new faces living on the street. Busy schedules are tossed aside as they unite for their annual block party, orchestrated by enthusiastic neighbors who want to build a greater sense of community.
If the idea of organizing a block party appeals to you, here are some tips to making it a success. Remember, you can’t do this all on your own. Recruit your neighbors – you’ll be surprised at how willing some might be to start a new tradition.
• Be sure that everyone in the neighborhood knows about the party. Draw up flyers indicating the time, date, and a contact name and phone number. Distribute the flyers door-to-door at least two months in advance, asking for help with food, games and other equipment.
• Consider having the party on a weekend either right before school ends or right after it begins. This will ensure attendance, as most families stay around during the school year.
• Require RSVPs so that you know how much food to purchase. You may require a $5 fee per person (with a $20 cap for a family) to cover food, beverages and any permit fees.
• The party should last for at least four or five daylight hours. However, this doesn’t mean the party has to be over at a set time. Very often, neighbors will find the night “still young” and will gather in smaller, quieter groups until the wee hours of the morning.
• Get a permit. Most communities require a municipal permit to hold a block party, which may cost a small fee to obtain. On the day of the party, residents are usually required to block off their street with sawhorses or traffic cones that can easily be removed if emergency vehicles need access. Local government officials often request that the neighborhood be considerate of other residents by keeping the noise level of the party tolerable.
• Limit alcoholic beverages. A block party is geared to all ages, and food and beverages should reflect that. Even if inadvertently abused, problems relating to misuse of alcohol can turn a wonderful time into a headache or, even worse, a legal nightmare. If you are serving alcohol, appoint someone to assure that no minors are indulging. You must also be sure that no one drives after drinking too much.
• Have an activity for everyone. Many traditional games still appeal to a wide age range. Consider having sack races, ball games, freeze and party dances, sprinkler games, water-balloon tosses, chalk sidewalk art displays and bocce contests. Some older guests may enjoy just watching everyone have a good time.
by Maureen Costello
Home-Grown and Beyond
Block parties don’t have to be limited to grilled food, sack races and lawn chairs. Try soliciting prizes, such as gift baskets and sporting equipment, from local businesses or your neighbors’ employers, to be raffled off. Money earned from games and raffles with small entry fees (a dollar or two) can be used to rent or purchase other entertainment items for the next year’s party. You might even consider pooling your resources to rent special equipment (such as a bounce house) or hire a magician, clown or disc jockey.