Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Getting called to 65 parties doesn’t usually mean a good night for the Moorhead Police Department. But it was cause to celebrate Tuesday, as neighborhoods in every corner of the city gathered for the annual Night to Unite – an occasion to connect neighbors and public servants for a safer, more caring community.
Night to Unite has been a staple of the Moorhead summer for at least 20 years. It was inspired by National Night Out, a festive annual get-together now observed in thousands of towns in all 50 states. Organized by law enforcement agencies, some cities choose to have one big event … like West Fargo, where residents came together in Elmwood Park for games, food, demonstrations and fun.
Moorhead does it differently. “Neighborhoods have been planning parties since well before I came to this job,” says community policing coordinator Leann Wallin, “and I started back in 2010.” She helps new organizers get the ball rolling and maintains a register of all the gatherings within the city limits. She also provides each group with the essentials hosts need – bags of disposable plates, forks, napkins and cups, along with T-shirts and other small prizes for games.
She also assists by closing off streets for those who plan to gather on the pavement, providing traffic cones and barricades. Finally, she maintains a log of neighborhood gatherings for guests who circulate around the city. Among them: the mayor and city council members, firefighters and police officers. While the Fire Department’s logistics limit them to about one-third of the parties, police officers and, often, police volunteers visit every one.
This year’s total of 66, while it sounds like a lot, is down slightly from the record of 82 set in 2018. That may reflect last year’s Covid-forced cancellation. Nevertheless, organizers have welcomed a chance to get back together. While several gatherings are new this year, others are considered summer essentials …
… like the big annual party near Angela’s Park just south of 40th Avenue, where resident Sharon Nelson has headed the planning crew for 18 years. More than 100 come each year, drawn from an area of 115 homes.
“For awhile, we did potlucks,” she says. “But that got to be a lot. Now we just say they can bring sweets or salads if they feel like it, and I order from 26 to 30 pizzas from Papa John’s.” It gets a bit pricey, she admits: “But by the end of the evening, I always have what I need.”
Other neighbors set up tables and a tent. This year they added a karaoke machine, too. It’s not for singing, she insists. Instead, they’ll use it to make announcements and introduce new neighbors.
Her group – now organized as a neighborhood block club – publicizes its gathering on the first Tuesday of August with door tags and posters on street corners. While youngsters play on the playground, their elders bring lawn chairs to chat, make new friends, and catch up on neighborhood doings. “Whether or not everyone comes every time, we’re pretty good about watching out for anything that’s unusual,” she comments.
“It’s all about building relationships and feeling like we all belong,” Sharon adds. “When you know your neighbors, you have that sense of safety and comfort. We know that somebody’s always going to be there if we need help.”