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How to run a Block Party

Block Party How-To
Feeling left out as block party season approaches? Putting together a block party is a snap. Here's how to, in six simple steps.
Now that a chill has come to the air in the evenings, you can feel that Fall is not far off. Along with school beginning and leaves falling, Autumn is the season of block parties in Newton. As a co-organizer of the Dwhinda Road block party for the past eight years, I would like to share my tips for anyone interested in organizing a block party in his or her neighborhood. Don't hold back -- It's much easier than you think. And a block party is the perfect place to catch up with neighbors you already know and meet those you don't know yet. Everyone walks away with that warm feeling that comes with living in a real neighborhood.
There are dozens of ways to do this, of course; here, I am sharing what we have done with the Dwhinda Road block party and what has worked well for us. The general principle is to convene a committee, choose a date, make a flyer, shop for basic food, have neighbors bring supplemental dishes and beverages and then recruit people to set up, grill, clean up, and bring tables, grills, and garbage cans. With the help of your neighbors and the assistance of Mother Nature, it all works like clockwork.
Without further ado--
1. At least a month or ideally six weeks in advance, convince one or two other people to be on the block party committee (this is key!). Don't be afraid to ask; it is not a lot of work and comes only once a year. Wabanites generally like to get involved. With your co-chairs, pick a date. Newton holds block parties throughout September after school starts. It is a good idea to pick a rain date. In our neighborhood, we have our party from 3 to 7 PM on a Sunday; that time seems to work well. Decide where you will have it and which streets will be included. Make sure the people whose houses abut the location are amenable (it may take a phone call). We hold ours where Dwhinda Road intersects Stetson Way.
2. About three weeks in advance, one organizer should prepare the flyers. This is a simple, one-page sheet to publicize the event. At the bottom, make a tear-off section listing participants' name, address, phone number, email (it helps in future years), how many people are coming and what they can bring (special food dishes as well as grill, table, cooler or garbage can). Designate where (whose house) the attendees should drop their RSVP and check. Here, we charge $3 for kids/seniors and $5 for grownups and supply burgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, and somemores. Ideally, everyone's personal food contributions will fill in the gaps. Neighbors bring beverages of all types (we supply some 2-liter sodas, water and juice) and their signature salads, side dishes and desserts. That committee member (or other volunteers) should hand-deliver the flyers to each household in the target zone.
3. Two or three days in advance, at least two committee members should go to Costco (or a regular grocery store) to buy the basic food items. It is tough to know how much to buy that first year as the majority of attendees will not RSVP in advance. When in doubt, buy less. Once you have a track record, you will use the last year's receipt as your shopping list for the next year. We typically buy burgers, dogs, chicken, marinades, chips, 2-liter bottles of soda, water, juice, watermelon, graham crackers, marshmallows, Hershey's bars, charcoal, name tag stickers and Sharpies. One committee member agrees to front the money (on top of monies already collected) for the shopping run (we only ran short of money one year). Split the perishable food items among the committee members for cold storage, unless one person has an auxiliary fridge or freezer.
4. On the morning of the block party, buy ice early. Start setting up the grills and the tables a few hours before the start. Fill the coolers with ice and drinks. Neighbors who have agreed to lend tables will (should) bring them out. When the appointed start time arrives, people will bring out their food dishes and drop them on the tables with the necessary utensils included. Get the grills going and meat cooking right from the start. Make sure you have enough garbage barrels and bags. Don't forget a small table for name tags and Sharpies. Appoint one committee member to take money and make change; that person should have a sense in advance of who has paid and who has not. Expect two-thirds (at least) of your attendees to show up unannounced and pay on the day of the event. Our super-organized Devora Jacobs has developed a spreadsheet and can give statistics on who has attended (and paid!) in recent years. Don't forget to enjoy the party!
5. After the event, encourage everyone to help as clean-up starts. In our group, the clean-up goes smoothly and quickly. People who have lent items are responsible for taking them home. If there is food left over, split it up among the committee members (or whoever else would like it!).
6. Do an accounting the next day. If there is a shortfall (and there should not be, as long as you are conservative in your buying), the other committee members should split the loss with the person who fronted the money (this only happened to us once and that was when we bought more items front, including alcohol that year). If there is money left over (which has been the case for us for the last several years), put it in safe-keeping for next year's event. Once you get your block party established, it seems to run itself. It is a wonderful way to meet people, reconnect with acquaintances and make lovely memories for your children.


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