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.

Phengzong Thao, 7, is ecstatic when Ramsey firefighter Jim Grega lets him turn on this fire truck’s siren. Communities all over Minnesota held block parties Tuesday evening, Aug. 5 for Night to Unite, which is an annual event organized by sheriff’s offices and police departments with the inclusion of fire departments to get neighborhoods better acquainted with each other and the people who protect them. Photo by Eric Hagen Neighbors gather at a block party organized by Tara and Matt Johnson, who moved into this Ramsey neighborhood in April. Photo by Eric Hagen Michael Karnatz, 6, Alexandra Ensrud, 7, Ripley Futhey, 7, and Ainsley Reeder, 6, face off in a sack race at an Anoka neighborhood party organized by Jason and Kelly Thorsten. Photo by Eric Hagen Jason and Kelly Thorsten, of Anoka have hosted a Night to Unite block party for five years. Their son Aidan, 9, met some new friends this evening. Photo by Eric Hagen This was the first time that Liz McFarland, right, has organized a Night to Unite block party in her Anoka neighborhood. She is used to organizing, being the Anoka Halloween Committee member that organizes the two parades. Photo by Eric Hagen Neighbors get together and catch up at a Night to Unite party at 146th Avenue and Avocet Street in Andover. Photo by Bill Jones The grill was smoking as neighbors gathered for a block party in Andover. Photo by Bill Jones The fire trucks drew a crowd at parties in Coon Rapids, where the local fire and police departments made the rounds to 110 parties. Photo courtesy of CRFD Kids got a chance to have an up-close look at fire and police vehicles on Night to Unite. Photo courtesy of CRFD Kids queue up to have their faces painted at the Night to Unite block party on West Sandpiper Drive in Blaine Aug. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester Sixteen jammers from across the northern metro came together to serenade the crowd at the West Sandpiper Drive Night to Unite block party in Blaine Aug. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester New Brighton’s Casey Cameron makes balloon flowers, swords and more for kids gathered at the Night to Unite block party on West Sandpiper Drive in Blaine. Photo by Olivia Koester Jennifer Dare drops a cookie on Jerry Golusky’s plate Aug. 5. Hundreds were served at the Night to Unite block party on West Sandpiper Drive in Blaine. Photo by Olivia Koester Holding son Asher, 2, Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View firefighter Jeff Frahm shows Winston Sanders, 4, many tools firefighters use in an emergency. Winston asked lots of questions at the Night to Unite party in Blaine’s London Park Aug. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester During the Night to Unite event at London Park in Blaine, Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View firefighters Brian Zuchowski, left, and Jeff Frahm show curious youngsters what all firetrucks carry. Photo by Olivia Koester Alex Larkin, 9, counts up how many signatures she and her brother Thomas, 6, have collected on their kids petition to install a crosswalk from the corner of The Lakes Parkway and West Lake Boulevard. The kids and their mom, Becca Larkin, put out petitions at a Night to Unite block party on Blaine’s Alamo Circle. Photo by Olivia Koester Sgt. Josh Antoine talks with Dean Horning, right, and Gary Carlson, the host of one of Spring Lake Park’s 12 Night to Unite block parties Tuesday. Photo by Olivia Koester Spring Lake Park Police Chief Doug Ebeltoft and City Administrator Dan Buchholtz swing by a Night to Unite gathering at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. “It’s great for promoting community relations,” Ebeltoft said of the annual night out. Photo by Olivia Koester Prince of Peace congregation members Curt Beal, on guitar, and Ken Benson, on accordian, serenade guests at the church’s Night to Unite party Aug. 5. Photo by Olivia Koester
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Phengzong Thao, 7, is ecstatic when Ramsey firefighter Jim Grega lets him turn on this fire truck’s siren. Communities all over Minnesota held block parties Tuesday evening, Aug. 5 for Night to Unite, which is an annual event organized by sheriff’s offices and police departments with the inclusion of fire departments to get neighborhoods better acquainted with each other and the people who protect them. Photo by Eric Hagen