For three evenings last week St. Thomas welcomed its Sherwood Park neighbours to a block party and barbecue, featuring free hotdogs and family friendly activities.
Greeters stood by the church sign, playing live music and waving signs to attract people passing by.
“People want connectivity and are very grateful to have a safe, friendly, no-strings-attached place to spend time with their family,” said Ruth Heine, St. Thomas’ Mission Facilitator. “And they’re gob-smacked that it’s free.”
Heine said the community’s Canada Day Parade was the perfect opportunity to let neighbours know about the block party. “The parade goes right past the church so we handed out free water bottles, pins and postcards.”
Parishioners decided that, instead of offering big ticket items like bouncy castles and petting zoos, they would gather unused arts and crafts supplies and organize simple activities, such as rock painting, bubble blowing, face painting, mini marshmallow sculpturing, bean bag tossing, stilts walking, and the ever-popular soda bottle rocket launching.
“This is awesome, the kids are loving it,” said Sal Humberstone helping his children Hailey and Gavin launch rockets. “I’ll definitely be building one of these in the backyard. I think the simpler the toys are, the better they are.”
“We were just driving by when we saw the guys waving and then we saw the sign that it was free and for everybody,” said Christin Hyshka, walking on stilts with his kids Darian and Eva. “This has been the perfect way to spend a Thursday evening.”
St. Thomas’ block party and barbecue was one of 103 community building projects to receive funding through Strathcona County’s Community Small Grants program in 2018. Additional funding came from in kind gifts and Reach funds.
“How many of us know our neighbours and have someone we can ask to water our plants when we go on holidays?” says human ecologist Erin Dawson-Meyers. “We’re so much happier when we feel supported.”
Dawson-Meyers attended the block party to drop off an ice cream donation from Strathcona County. “It’s been really cool to hear the intergenerational perspective of how this church was started. These are the kinds of stories that connect us and bring us together.”
“I think this is great,” says Jean Parlby, a member of St. Thomas since 1971. “People driving by see there’s something on the corner and stop in.”
One family was riding past on their bikes and stopped in and stayed for three hours, said St. Thomas rector the Rev. Steve London. “We’ve been giving people tours of the church and answering questions about what it means to be Anglican.”
“This is a wonderful way to get to know our neighbours,” said Audrey Aylard, another long-time member of St. Thomas, while busily constructing a marshmallow fortress. “The more we get together, the better.”
Kent Hough, a resident of nearby Curlew Crescent, said he hardly knew any of his neighbours when he helped start a Facebook group for his block two years ago. “Now I probably know 98 per cent of the people in a two block radius,” he said. Hough also received a community-building grant from the county which he used to throw a Canada Day block party for 70 people.