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Greenfield neighborhood turns out for St. James’ first block party

  • Greenfield residents gathered at the St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of Federal and Church streets on Saturday for the first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Greenfield residents gathered at the St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of Federal and Church streets on Saturday for the first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Volunteer Sarah Hollister hula hoops outside St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield on Saturday during the church's first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Volunteer Sarah Hollister hula hoops outside St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield on Saturday during the church's first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • St. James Episcopal Church Rev. Heather J. Blais cringes as cold dunking booth water splashes down on her at the block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    St. James Episcopal Church Rev. Heather J. Blais cringes as cold dunking booth water splashes down on her at the block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kaylynn Lupien, 5, enjoys lunch with her great-aunt Ellnora Doubleday and brother Talland, 2, at the St. James Episcopal Church block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Kaylynn Lupien, 5, enjoys lunch with her great-aunt Ellnora Doubleday and brother Talland, 2, at the St. James Episcopal Church block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • St. James Episcopal Church volunteers Gerda Bennett, Elise Schlaikjer and Bernie Murley serve lunch to participants of the first annual block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    St. James Episcopal Church volunteers Gerda Bennett, Elise Schlaikjer and Bernie Murley serve lunch to participants of the first annual block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Greenfield residents gathered at the St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of Federal and Church streets on Saturday for the first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Volunteer Sarah Hollister hula hoops outside St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield on Saturday during the church's first annual block party. Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • St. James Episcopal Church Rev. Heather J. Blais cringes as cold dunking booth water splashes down on her at the block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Kaylynn Lupien, 5, enjoys lunch with her great-aunt Ellnora Doubleday and brother Talland, 2, at the St. James Episcopal Church block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • St. James Episcopal Church volunteers Gerda Bennett, Elise Schlaikjer and Bernie Murley serve lunch to participants of the first annual block party on Saturday. Recorder/Micky Bedell

GREENFIELD — St. James Episcopal Church held its first annual block party Saturday afternoon, an event that has been in the making since the day some of the church’s members decided to take a walk last December.

Not a leisure walk, however. That day, they trekked through the neighborhoods closest to the church, hoping to get a look at the types of hardships with which their fellow community members and local social service organizations were dealing — and how they could help.

According to Dennis O’Rourke, who went out that day and later took the lead in organizing the party, the group walked for about 20 minutes in every direction, meeting with residents, local businesses and organizations. In the months after, a committee was formed to engage those neighbors and organizations in a dialogue about how the church could help them.

And O’Rourke thought, what better way to bring a community together than with a block party?

“When we went out, we found that some people are enjoying meals and some aren’t. They’re looking for meals,” said O’Rourke. “We wanted to get to know our neighborhood better and we have a great campus here, so we decided to throw a block party.”

Robert Gilmore, who also participated in the meetings and helped pull the event together, said he was glad to have the chance to peel back some of the Federal Street storefronts and get to know the neighborhood.

“Some of these neighborhoods have specific needs, and we thought we could help out,” he said.

The party was held entirely on the grounds of the church’s campus and included a DJ, a clown, a ton of hula-hoops and, of course, lots and lots of food. The event also featured a raffle with prizes donated by a number of Federal Street businesses, including Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, WOW Frozen Yogurt and Aliber’s Bridal.

Any proceeds from the party that exceeded the cost of throwing it would be donated to area social service organizations like The RECOVER Project, Community Action and the Center for New Americans.

The day’s most popular attraction turned out to be a dunking booth, where party-goers were able to throw softballs at a target, each direct hit dropping a bucket on water on whoever was brave enough to sit inside. And there was one person in particular that all the kids got a kick out of soaking: their minister, Rev. Heather Blais.

Taking a moment to dry herself off after being repeatedly drenched for about 10 minutes, Blais said she was pleased with the turnout, but wished there was a way to tell exactly which members of the community had shown up. Being able to quantify that aspect of the party would help them achieve the goal at its core, she said.

“For a long time, the church was inwardly focused and we can’t afford to do that any more,” said Blais, who has been the church’s minister for nearly two years. “If you’re not relevant to the community, than you’re not relevant at all. It’s great to be able to raise funds for all the social service agencies.”

They appeared to be well on the way to achieving their goal by mid-afternoon, with visits from community leaders including Mayor William Martin, police and fire department personnel and area families.

“We’re pleased how this has turned out, for a first time thing,” said O’Rourke. “The weather was definitely on our side. We’ll see how it evolves.”

Joan McKelvey, a church member and Greenfield resident, said she was “absolutely flabbergasted” by how the event turned out.

“I had no idea we’d have this kind of turnout with this as a first time happening,” said McKelvey. “I think it’s very nice to have so many community leaders show up.”

Phil Bonaiuto took the opportunity to bring his 10-year-old son, Joey, to enjoy “fellowship and food.”

“This is awesome,” he said. “It’s great to see everyone out here, and the church has such nice grounds for this type of thing.”

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