Eye on the sky at Night to Unite in Coon Rapids

The thousands of people attending Night to Unite celebrations in Coon Rapids kept one eye on the sky Tuesday evening as a thunderstorm rolled through.night 1.2by4 b:w JPGBut that did not stop the more than 100 parties registered with the Coon Rapids Police Department from taking place.

Those neighborhood gatherings received visits from Coon Rapids Police officers and Coon Rapids firefighters, while Allina Health paramedics also stopped by some of them.

This year’s theme for Night to Unite was “All Things Online,” which focused on the police department’s new online crime mapping, Internet safety, identity theft and social media safety programs.

All materials included in the hosting event bags given to organizers of all the registered gatherings reflected that theme.

The purpose of Night to Unite is to:

• Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness.

• Generate support for and participation in local anti-crime programs.

• Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.

• Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

Night to Unite events are an annual tradition in many neighborhoods.

William Brown has organized a cookout for his neighborhood on a vacant lot on the 8400 block of Mississippi Boulevard for some 10 years.

“We usually get anywhere from 50 to 70 people who come,” said Brown.

Attending this Night to Unite gathering was Miriam Craig, who with her husband, the late Joe Craig, moved to Coon Rapids in 1953. She has lived in the same house since then, Craig said.

Joe Craig was the mayor of the city of Coon Rapids from 1960 through 1967 and also served on the council when Coon Rapids was still a village.

Mary T, Inc., which provides housing and other services to seniors and people with disabilities, also hosts an annual Night to Unite party.

According to Ron Nordin, Mary T, Inc. property manager and community developer, the event, which included musician Chuck Skajewski, draws people of all ages from over 90 to children who live in the various Mary T housing developments.

The gathering also provides a rare opportunity for residents with severe disabilities to get out and have some entertainment, Nordin said.

The 2013 Night to Unite was the fifth year that Presbyterian Church of the Master had put on a celebration in the church parking lot on Northdale Boulevard.

Besides food and activities for children, booths were set up in the parking lot with information about church and community activities and programs.

There was also entertainment, according to Marilyn Cook, a member of the church’s organizing committee.

The Cameroon Chorus, which comprises church members from Cameroon, got the audience involved, so did the Hot Foot Stompers square dance group.

The Nite to Unite party at Lida Rental, an 80-unit townhouse development and 105th Avenue and Kumquat Street, is an annual event and had a luau theme this year.

There was a bouncy house and fish pond for the kids as well as a hula hoop contest and raffle, said Tammy Ostgard, general manager.

But this year was the first time that Chapel Hill Church on Hanson Boulevard had hosted a Night to Unite gathering.

“This was a trial run to see if we wanted to make it an annual event,” said Rev. Cheryl Hannan, senior pastor at the church.

The turnout was “awesome,” Hannan said.

“We will now have an annual Night to Unite celebration.”

In addition, the church had a plan B for when the thunderstorm hit.

“We were able to move everything inside the church,” Hannan said.

Donations to Night to Unite activities were made by Dairy Queen on Coon Rapids Boulevard, Target Corporation, Nickolodeon Universe (Mall of America), Coon Rapids Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, Chili’s of Blaine, McDonalds on Foley Boulevard, Eddingtons, Connexus Energy, CenterPoint Energy and the Big Dipper in Blaine.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]