Free festival brings community together

Free festival brings community together

Event at Community Park will be August 1

By Julie Gerke
Photos courtesy of Leslie Forsman

An annual event designed to bring together the community and first responders will return this year to Community Park in Jacksonville.

National Night Out (NNO) will be 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 1 at the park, located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and Morton Avenue. Attendees should enter through the South Main Street entrance; drivers will be guided to parking spaces in grassy areas.

The free festival is part of a national event held annually on the first Tuesday of August. The Jacksonville event has been in place since at least 2016, with time off in 2020-21 because of COVID-19. It is cosponsored by Crime Stoppers of Morgan, Cass and Scott counties and the Jacksonville Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni group.

National Night Out attendees participate in a craft exercise during the 2022 event.

First responders will represent a number of agencies: Jacksonville and South Jacksonville police and fire departments; Morgan County Sheriff’s Department; Beardstown, Chapin and Waverly police departments; Illinois State Police; West Central Illinois 911 Dispatch; Morgan County Emergency Management Agency; Morgan County Coroner’s Office; LifeStar Ambulance; and possibly utility restoration crews. Air Evac Lifeteam will have a static helicopter display.

By mid-July, booths included Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, Jacksonville Public Library, Boy Scouts, Crisis Center Foundation, Lil’ Red Wagon; Midwest Youth Services; The Salvation Army; and Morgan County Extension, among others.

Activities and programs will include bounce houses, Ferris wheel rides, CPR practice, the fire department smoke house and police department drone and special response team displays. Organizers hope to have child identification kits available.

Volunteers from the Jacksonville Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy help children on a bounce house at the 2022 National Night Out event in Jacksonville.

Last year’s event drew at least two dozen vendors and about 350 attendees. The Zingabad Grotto Bus will offer food and drink for sale; those proceeds provide funds for various local charities. No alcoholic beverages are allowed in the park, and younger children need to be accompanied by an adult.

“It was a gorgeous night [last year]. People were anxious to get out,” said Leslie Forsman, board secretary for Crime Stoppers and a NNO planning committee member. “Everybody seems to have a wonderful time.”

National Night Out, founded in Pennsylvania in 1984, was designed as a meet-and-greet opportunity between community members and police; Jacksonville is among 195 Illinois communities and 17,000 cities nationwide to participate.

“It’s a very pleasant evening,” Forsman said. “The community gets along and has a good time and learns about services in the area.”

The event costs just under $1,000 to mount, Forsman said, to cover the cost of Ferris wheel rental, a disc jockey, the bounce houses and portable toilets.

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