Neighbors come together for Night to Unite

Anoka County streets were filled with music, laughter and the smell of a barbecue Tuesday, Aug. 5, as neighbors poured out of their homes to spend time with one another at Night to Unite events across the county.

Ben Johnson, 3, is excited to honk the horn of this Ramsey fire truck, which visited a block party organized by his parents Tara and Matt. Photo by Eric Hagen

Ben Johnson, 3, is excited to honk the horn of this Ramsey fire truck, which visited a block party organized by his parents Tara and Matt. Photo by Eric Hagen

Neighborhoods all over Minnesota held block parties in honor of the annual Night to Unite celebration, which is meant to provide a united front in the fight against crime.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office had about 100 parties in the communities it covers. City police departments also worked with neighborhoods interested in hosting block parties. Blaine had more than 120 parties, Coon Rapids had 110, Ramsey had 39 and Anoka had 20, for example.

Liz and Jeremy McFarland, of Anoka, and Ramsey residents Tara and Matt Johnson were both hosting a Night to Unite block party for the first time.

“We’ve had some changes in the neighborhood so I thought it was time to rejuvenate the relationships,” Liz said in reference to new neighbors moving in.

The Johnson family and their sons Jack, 6, Ben, 3, and Brody, 1, moved to Ramsey in April after having been in a more cramped Blaine townhome neighborhood. When they heard about Night to Unite, it made perfect sense to host a block party.

“We’re very outgoing, social people,” Tara said, adding that aside from food and conversation, they had plenty of yard games set out.

Firefighters, medical professionals and police officers tried to stop by most events.

When a fire truck pulled up at London Park in Blaine, kids zoomed over to get a better look.

Winston Sanders, 4, was full of questions for Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View firefighters, wanting to know the purpose of every piece of equipment and whether the tires could drive on dirt.

In Spring Lake Park, Gary Carlson grilled up five different kinds of brats on his brand new grill. One selection was a little wild: gummi bear brats. “They were sweet like candy,” Carlson said.

In their Blaine neighborhood, Alex, 9, and Thomas Larkin, 6, had a kids petition out for young neighbors to sign.

Alex, Thomas and their mom, Becca Larkin, want to see a crosswalk installed between the corner of The Lakes Parkway and West Lake Boulevard so that kids can safely travel to and from West Lake Park. Larkin had an adult version of the petition available at her neighborhood’s block party and at eight others in The Lakes neighborhoods.

Jason and Kelly Thorsten have held block parties for the past five years. Their Anoka neighborhood is pretty tight-knit but there are always new people to meet.

“Today I saw two people I didn’t know. Now I have more kids to play with,” said their 9-year-old son Aidan.

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