Health and safety precautions, as well as COVID-19 limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, have resulted in cancellation of various events in Gloucester Township, including a highly-anticipated 325th anniversary celebration that was to include a parade, time capsule burial and world record attempt.
Potentially most unfortunate this year is cancellation of the township’s annual National Night Out event, which takes place as part of a nationwide event on the first Tuesday in August.
The National Association of Town Watch, founded in 1981, was established as a way to provide community watch groups with “the necessary information, resources and assets to stay informed, interested, involved and motivated within the community.”
Three years later, in 1984, National Night Out was introduced in August to better connect neighborhoods and their respective police departments and other emergency responders. The first celebration, according to the National Night Out website, involved 2.5 million community members across 400 communities in 23 states. Since then, the annual celebration has spread to every state and territory in the United States.
The organization said in a statement earlier this summer that the nationwide event was postponed until the first Tuesday in October, but the Gloucester Township Police Department has confirmed the event has been completely cancelled for 2020 and will instead be hosted in 2021.
“It’s one of our major events,” said Jason Gittens, a member of the township’s community relations bureau. “Typically, it presents us the opportunity to go out and meet both new residents and old residents and discuss things that might be going on in their neighborhood.”
While some municipalities have moved toward hosting the event in one central location, its origins centered around neighborhood block parties within the community, with local emergency responders visiting throughout the evening.
The Gloucester Township Police Department normally would separate into different groups and visit various locations, such as block parties and senior living communities. But that task is not as easily doable in light of COVID-19.
According to the National Night Out website, Gloucester Township was a 2019 winner for its night out event last year, in municipalities with a population between 50,000 and 100,000 people. The police department has also been lauded in recent years as one of the top hosts of the event across the state and nation.
With the event’s cancellation, Gittens said, community engagement will be much lower in Gloucester Township, but the Community Relations Bureau still wants to visit neighborhoods across the township to facilitate conversation and interaction on a smaller, safer scale.
“Our Community Outreach Truck has been making rounds to local neighborhoods for quite some time; we’ll take that to visit the kids and play games outside or even in the truck,” Gittens noted. “We’ll continue that for the time being.”
Gittens said the truck’s visits are advertised on the police Facebook page in advance, to give parents notice of its appearance. Visits are typically made to three parts of the township each week. To protect the health and safety of residents, kids are advised to wear masks and socially distance at the truck.
Moving forward, Gittens added, the police department is still in communication with numerous township groups regarding potential in-person and virtual events.