Celebrating community at National Night Out

national night out bikes
National Night Out planners surpassed their goal with 74 bicycles donated by sponsors for the event. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – The rain didn’t stop the fun at National Night Out.

The annual event drew more than 1,000 people to Holmes Beach City Field on Oct. 3 to celebrate fun, friendship and community. In its second year, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer estimates the crowd more than tripled from the year before.

“It was a tremendous success,” Tokajer said. He gives credit for the event to city staff and HBPD officers, including Sgt. Vern McGowan and Officer Josh Fleischer who spearheaded the evening.

Bob Baublitz from Waste Pro mans the grill while Tracey Meehan and Commissioner Carol Soustek hand out hot dogs. – Kristin Swain | Sun

“It was great,” Commissioner Judy Titsworth said. “I ran into people I haven’t seen since high school. It was amazing. I can’t believe what you pulled off.”

In addition to the efforts of city staff, individual, group and business sponsors stepped up to help bring the night together. Sponsors donated toys, food, drinks, bicycle helmets, 74 bicycles and their time to unite the community. Families came out from the Island and the mainland to participate in the carnival-like festivities.

West Manatee Fire Rescue firefighters help fit kids for bicycle helmets. – Kristin Swain | Sun

“Thank you to all of our sponsors. The event would not have been the success it was if we didn’t have the community participation from our sponsors who went all out to make sure the kids had a great night,” Tokajer said. “It was just heartwarming to see the children from this community get together and take part in an event that was meant to get people together.”

Anna Maria Island Privateer Cindy “Lady Sinthia” Meeks preps for the bilge rat toss. – Kristin Swain | Sun

National Night Out is a country-wide program aimed at bringing community members together to celebrate a safe, fun, family-friendly night out in their neighborhood.

“There wasn’t a kid who left there without something to take with them, some kind of gift,” Tokajer said.

One of the highlights for Tokajer was his time in the dunking booth.

“Everyone came out to dunk the Chief,” he said, calling out Soustek and City Treasurer Lori Hill for dropping him in the water a total of three times. Also participating in the fun were his daughter and grandkids who submerged him a few times. “It was fun,” Tokajer said.

Christina Walker and daughter Khaleessi go greet father and grandfather HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer after sinking him in the dunking booth. – Kristin Swain | Sun

“It was a fabulous event, thank you so much,” Commissioner Jean Peelen said, congratulating city staff. She suggested working with other communities and organizations next year to make sure the event continues its mission of benefitting high-risk kids.

City Engineer Lynn Burnett said she knew this year’s National Night Out event benefitted some high-risk kids at G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School in Bradenton. During the event, a teacher from the school working with severely handicapped kids approached Public Works Foreman Dave Benton. After hearing about the children at the school, Benton sent the teacher home with four bicycles and several boxes of toys.

“Any opportunity that presented itself, your staff took it and went full force,” Burnett said.

Tokajer said city staff is already hard at work planning next year’s event.

“It’s going to be bigger and better next year,” he promised.