Thousands flock to ‘Night Out’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Thousands flock to ‘Night Out’The inaugural local observance of “National Night Out” — an initiative to connect peace officers with the communities they serve — attracted upwards of 5,000 to Freedom Park on Tuesday evening.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Toyota of Ridgecrest and the Evan Etoch Foundation, in partnership with the Ridgecrest Police Department, locals were treated to dinner, a movie and free school supplies to help them start off the new academic year.

“I thought it was great,” said Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin.

“For the most part, people seemed to be enjoying themselves, patiently waiting in long lines to get their food and their school supplies.”

While the national event focuses on community ties between first responders and citizens, McLaughlin said, part of his reason for starting the event this year is because he saw the positive impact bringing community together has had on the thousands of residents who have been displaced, stressed or otherwise impacted by the tumultuous earthquakes aftershocks that followed.

To accomplish the feat, he brought in Fred and Janelle Etoch, who spent some $30,000 and recruited scores of volunteers to stage the event.

“I think it was a huge success,” said Fred. “Even the wind cooperated!”

He said that he, Janelle and McLaughlin met Wednesday morning for a debrief to identify how they could improve, “but I honestly don’t know that we could have done anything differently. So many people helped, so many people contributed — I was really grateful to all who helped make this happen.”

Starting almost two hours before the supply giveaway, hundreds began to line up at the park. “We were almost afraid we were not going to have enough!” said Fred.

The Optimists Club and Ridge Project were also on site, cooking and serving thousands of hot dog dinners. Children and families were treated to snacks and activities leading up to the screening of “Look to the Sky,” a film by Brett Culp that depicts young people who channel their time, energy and talents into serving others.

McLaughlin said that, following the disasters that literally and figuratively shook the community, he saw a similar generosity exhibited in our community. Many residents — including the Etoches — focused on doing something to help others to take their minds off their own troubles.

“I would love to do this again next year,” he said. Although the event coincided with the national observance, he said he was open to switching to a weekend night next year. “That way, maybe families will not be under so much pressure, and be able to relax and enjoy themselves a little bit more.”

Pictured: Susie Witt helps a family gather free school supplies — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-08-09