The weather couldn’t stop Lawrence Township’s annual Community Day, as thousands turned out on Oct. 2 even after flooding from recent rains forced organizers to move the festival from the grass fields on the Bergen Street side of Village Park to the parking lot on the park’s Yeger Drive side.
“We found out that the other location was practically underwater,” Mayor Greg Puliti said as he wandered among the dozens of township organizations, nonprofits and local businesses that took part in the event. “The committee got together, and there were some suggestions, and they said, ‘Hey, why don’t we move it down here.’ Then what we did was we called all the vendors up and everyone got the change, and we’re here today.”
(for a photo gallery of over 60 photos from Community Day.)
Steve Groeger, superintendent of the township’s Recreation Department, estimated that as many as 3,000 people attended the 12:30 to 4 p.m. celebration of the many things that Lawrence Township has to offer.
“Despite the weather Community Day seemed to be very successful,” Groeger said afterward. “There was a nice representation of the community by service groups, businesses, volunteers and government agencies. Residents in attendance appeared to enjoy stopping at the tables to see what’s available here in Lawrence. Those in attendance and the groups participating commented on the relocation to the Yeger Drive side as a much better setup.”
Groeger noted that Community Day attendees donated more than $550 to the fund that will be used to pay for next year’s Independence Weekend concert and fireworks show. Including that amount with donations collected during the on Labor Day and other fundraisers held thus far, the fund for the 2012 July 4th fireworks stands at over $7,000, he said.
Community Day provided a place for township residents – and their friends from out of town – to get together and just have fun, something that Councilman Bob Bostock thinks is sometimes lost in today’s fast-paced society.
“It’s a great way to build community,” Bostock said. “Everybody is so busy these days, people barely have time to talk to their next-door neighbor, let alone get out in the community. But you have an event like this, where you see we’ll get a couple thousand people out here during the day and it gives people an opportunity to see what’s going on, see the various activities that are around, the various local businesses that are so important to the health of the community. It’s a wonderful event.”
“We’ve been doing this for years now,” Puliti agreed. “So many people that live in Lawrence Township don’t know what makes up the community, the different businesses and the different volunteer organizations. This is one place where people can just shop for everything and find out what’s in Lawrence Township. So, it’s very important, we all look forward to this day, and we’re glad it’s well attended.”
Businesses and causes were definitely the spotlight of the event, as tables and tents lined the edges of the parking lot. Twelve-year-old was at Community Day to help promote . Launched earlier this year, the system is used to instantly alert residents to various emergencies – from weather-related incidents like to public health matters such as the one that took place in October 2010 when a problem at the water filtration plant in Trenton required residents throughout the area, including parts of Lawrence, to boil water for several days before drinking it or cooking with it.
But residents only receive those emergency notifications if the township has their correct contact information. Evens is working to get residents to provide their home phone numbers, cell phone numbers and email addresses to the township to ensure that they don’t miss receiving important alerts from the “Reverse 911” system.
“This is a community service project,” Evans said. “I was worried people with babies or elderly people that don’t go to the schools in Lawrence Township wouldn’t get a call if the water wasn’t safe. I just started it because I care about the community.”
Evans’ table was located in the front row of the festival, and that helped her spread the word about the system.
“It’s really great advertisement, because the whole community is invited, so the whole community can check this out,” Evans said. “And we asked them to invite their friends.”
In addition to useful services provided by community groups, local businesses were given a chance to shine and advertise their services as well. Tim “The Juggling Magician” Marchetti provided a show highlighted by his balancing flaming plates on a stick with his chin about 15 feet above the crowd.
For Marchetti, events like Community Day are one of his only means of promoting his business in these tough economic times.
“It’s probably my only outlet for advertising right now. I lost everything, with the bad economy and all that. So it’s very beneficial,” Marchetti said. “I’ve gotten jobs out of it, you know, whether it’s a year down the road or whatever the case may be. But yeah, I’ve done some stuff for people at their house who have been here and liked (the show).”
There were also pony rides and wagon rides to entertain the children, while food vendors like Fired Up Events, and offered their tasty creations for passers-by to purchase.
“We had our first invitation last year and it went really well,” Francine Petrone, owner of Philly Pretzel Factory on Whitehead Road in Lawrence, said. “We’re just here to be a part of it.”
Community Day afforded businesses a prime opportunity to distribute coupons and flyers to help drum up some business during the struggling economy.
“We’re trying to give out as much as we can today,” Petrone said. “Information, coupons, everything. So hopefully they hold onto it and we’ll see a return in the store.”
For Bostock, one of the most rewarding parts of Community Day was the fact that the event was put together almost entirely by the Lawrence Township community itself.
“This is something that the community really does,” Bostock said. “All of the vendors and organizations, that’s what makes this really work. Our role as the town government is relatively small. We couldn’t do this without all the folks who are [here] talking about their organizations and their various activities.”