By NEIL ZAWICKI
“We had to send the police for more hot dogs.”
That’s what Milton Town School District Food Service Manager Steve Marinelli had to say about the unexpectedly large turnout at Milton’s National Night Out event Aug. 6. Marinelli and four employees, were running the grill that night, all set to serve free cookout dinner to 500 guests.
In the end, they served 1,200.
The event, which since 1984 has promoted community involvement, unity and safety in communities, has generally drawn between 500 and 600 people each year in Milton, and Police Chief Steve Laroche said the record— set three years ago — was 800.
“I’m just glad we changed the location this year,” remarked Laroche. That location change, from the fire station to Bombardier Park West, was just one new aspect of this year’s event.
Marinelli’s free cookout was new, as was the free ice cream sandwiches from Hannaford Supermarket. The store donated 500 of those, along with 30 bags of ice and 600 water bottles. The Milton Cornerstone Church provided tables, chairs, and a freezer, which Laroche said was a good thing because keeping the ice cream cold was not something planners considered, only because they figured they would hand them out as quickly as they arrived.
He said the line for food stretched beyond the stage, where Shake the Band was playing, and later remarked it was probably the largest crowd they’ve played for.
But when the food line became two lines of equal size, things got serious.
“I’ll keep cooking until we run out of food or we feed everyone,” Marinelli told the chief at one point. Laroche said ultimately everyone who stood in line got something to eat. He also confirmed the police were asked to get more hot dogs, and that Public Safety Director Taylor Yeats made the trip, purchasing 300 more from Hannaford.
For his part, Marinelli, a veteran caterer, said he wasn’t too concerned about the line, but it certainly kept him moving and alert for the evening.
“You can’t predict what you don’t know,” he said of his decision to offer the free food. “You dip your toe in that water and then figure it out after the fact.”
Marinelli said a retired food service worker actually jumped in to help him serve the food.
Along with the food and capacity crowd, law enforcement introduced a scavenger hunt for the kids, designed to encouraged interaction with the cops. The new game was the brainchild of Milton Police Sgt. Paul Locke. To participate, the kids each received a print out with a mission to locate several mystery items on police vehicles and officers’ uniforms, answer trivia questions, participate in two fun activities, and to high five a police officer.
“I gave out so many high fives that night,” remarked Laroche, who also got himself dunked in the dunk tank, along with town manager Don Turner.
Kids and adults also played cornhole and had fun with hula hoops. The climbing wall, which for the past several years has not been set up due to weather, was again preempted this year, because it was too wet following the rain shower that preceded the event, but stopped just in time for the event to begin.
“It’s probably a good thing that the weather was almost bad,” said Laroche. “Because otherwise we could have had a much larger crowd.”