by Eric Oslund
As the aroma of barbecues and potlucks wafted up through the air, and with the sounds of children cheering in excitement as fire trucks or police cars pulled up in front of their houses in Otsego the night of Aug. 1, it was clear that Night to Unite was once again upon the community.
There were a total of 19 parties registered across the growing city, and while all of them seemed to vary in size, each one had a similar purpose: to bring everyone in each neighborhood closer together.
“It’s very nice. Very nice opportunity for people to get together, and it’s critical for neighbors to know each other,” Wright County Deputy Sheriff Craig Burton said. “Because, really, the public is the eyes and ears of what goes on out there. It’s a huge advantage for everyone to know each other, know who’s in the neighborhood, who should be here. It’s a lot easier to detect crime or unusual activity that way.”
And having that sense of community and bringing together everyone in the neighborhood has been why Otsego Mayor Jessica Stockamp has been hosting one of these events in her yard and cul-de-sac since 2002 or 2003.
She knows that there are some who wish the city would put on one large event, but it’s just hard to beat the intimate feel one gets when being surrounded by their neighbors.
“Here in my neighborhood, it’s a nice way for people (new the neighborhood) to meet other people. It’s a Tuesday night, so hopefully everybody is back from out of town, and to just see what’s going on,” Stockamp said.
“This is what makes a community to me. You can go to big events, which are great, but when you’re able to just walk to something that’s in your neighborhood versus getting in your car, there is something very Minnesota about it in my opinion. I think it’s a great night.”
Along with getting to know your neighbors, this night was also meant as a way to meet the law enforcement and firefighters who protect the neighborhoods throughout the city. From about 6-9 p.m., big red fire engines and black-and-gold-colored sheriff vehicles were cruising around Otsego, bouncing from one party to the next.
And the moment they would come rolling down the block, they were often met with kids running up in excitement, waiting for the opportunity to climb into the vehicle, turn on the lights, learn about what the firefighters and officers do for their job and, in the case of a few lucky parties in Otsego, play in the water the tanker truck had carried to the party.
“They love it,” Trent Collins, a member of the Elk River Fire Department said. “We don’t have hand lines on here or hoses, but we do it a little different. Drop some water off the back and show them how that how works, and they get to splash around in it. You can’t beat that on a hot day.”
Not only are activities like this fun for all the kids, and parents as well, but it allows them to give a face to the badge that helps protect them on a daily basis.
A majority of people do not have interactions with the Wright County Sheriff’s department or one of three fire departments that service the city. But if there is ever an emergency and they need help from one of these departments, events like these help everyone involved, and especially the kids, know that emergency responders are there to help.
“To be honest, not a lot of people have contact with law enforcement,” Burton said. “Oftentimes it’s because they need help or it’s some kind of critical situation, and so they get to see the other side of it, too – that we’re part of the community, we live in the community. It’s a job that we do, but we’re also just like them with families and friends and like to do the same kind of things. Puts a good human face on the job that a lot of times people don’t see or get exposure to. It’s a great situation for everybody, I think.”