‘It’s important to come together’

Next gathering is Aug. 6 for ‘National Night Out’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘It’s important to come together’A repeat of the wildly popular community dinner-and-movie-in-the-park is set for Tuesday, Aug. 6 — which coincides with National Night Out.

The nationwide observance is the capstone of a community-building campaign to promote strong relationships between police and the neighborhoods they protect. But the local event holds particular significance for a community in need of bonding after our recent trauma, said Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin.

In the days that followed the massive earthquakes that left residents both literally and figuratively shaken, community leaders began to see that the mental and emotional healing of our residents was just as critical as the physical repairs to be made.

McLaughlin partnered with Fred and Janelle Etoch to see if they could stage a gathering for residents in need of comfort and reassurance after persistent earthquakes and aftershocks had displaced hundreds and distressed thousands of others.

“Everyone was tired, stressed and depleted,” said McLaughlin. “I could see it in the faces of our people and everyone else in the community. I knew we needed to be together. And I think it’s important for us to come together again.”

The Etoch family, through Toyota of Ridgecrest and the Evan Etoch Foundation, was able to stage an event for the very next day. An estimated 3,000-4,000 showed up at Freedom Park. The McLaughlins and Etoches were staggered by the turnout, but also by the positive response and gratitude the event engendered in our community.

So for the sequel, the event organizers are setting even more ambitious goals for the event.

McLaughlin was able to procure a copy of “Look To The Sky,” a documentary by Brett Culp that tell stories of ordinary humans achieving extraordinary things. “I think this is exactly what our community needs right now,” said the chief.

The IWV Economic Development Corp. is sponsoring rental of a 40-foot screen to project the film. The Etoch family and friends are handling the rest.

Each of the first 2,000 people will be served a free hot-dog dinner with chips on the side. For others looking for more sophisticated fare, local food vendors will be on hand for the purchase of other food and beverages.

Vendors will start serving dinner at 7 p.m. at Freedom Park. Attendees will have an opportunity to write thank-you cards to first-responders onsite.

Leading up to the feature film, a slideshow honoring local men and women in the emergency services will be projected on the big screen. The movie will begin at 8:30 p.m.

Pictured: Thousands come together for the previous movie night, hosted by Toyota of Ridgecrest at Freedom Park — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-07-26