Residents in the 1000 block of Shattuck Avenue gather for National Night Out. Photo: Hannah Long

By Hannah Long

On Tuesday night, the Downtown Berkeley Association, BART Police Department, and more than  50 community and neighborhood groups hosted potlucks and parties on Berkeley’s streets as part of National Night Out.

This annual event, which began in 1984, is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch to promote neighborhood camaraderie and community involvement. This year, more than 37 million people participated in these block parties nationwide, according to the group’s website.

Two children at a neighborhood gathering on 7th St. Photo: Shauna Rabinowitz

Beany Wezelman, who has lived on the 1000 block of Shattuck Avenue for more 30 years, has organized a National Night Out party for her neighborhood for the past two years. On Tuesday evening, the street was barricaded and tables and chairs were set up right in the middle of the street. As dusk fell, friends and neighbors of all ages chatted, caught up, and enjoyed the potluck-style feast.

Wezelman says that she loves the opportunity to spend time outside and bond with neighbors.

“I think that this would be a great way for neighbors who don’t know each other to come together and really connect,” she said.

Neighbors in the 2400 block of 7th Street gather for National Night Out. Photo: Shauna Rabinowitz

Her longtime friend Colleen Neff, who lives down the block, added, “We’ve been having block parties for years (before we even heard about National Night Out), and these events have made us a really tight knit-street. When new people move here we all introduce ourselves right away, and we look out for each other.”

Kids at the National Night Out gathering at Oregon and Dohr streets don red plastic firefighter hats. Photo: Kester Allen

The National Association of Town Watch hopes that, in addition to community strengthening, National Night Out will also promote safety and disaster preparedness. In Berkeley, firefighters visited each block party to distribute information about fire safety. Engine company number 4 spent about 20 minutes at the Shattuck party, their first of six for the evening, sampling food and chatting.

“This is really fun for all of the firefighters because we get to meet so many people,” said one firefighter, who only identified himself as Tony. “We hand out plastic helmets to kids and give them tours of the engine. This is a great night for the whole community.”

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan and other members of the Berkeley Police Department also went from potluck to potluck throughout the city to talk to residents about crime and other concerns.

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