TOMS RIVER – In a display of community and unity, this year’s National Night Out marked Toms River’s second annual joining of National Night Out and Around the World in Toms River. It was a night of eating, education and engagement.
Police Chief Mitchell Little, founder of Toms River UNITED (Uniting Neighbors In Town Every Day) hosted the first annual Around the World in Toms River in 2019. Chief Little has also served as chief since 2014.
“Why not combine them?” Chief Little said of the two events, which both aim to bring the community together.
On one side of Luker Bridge at Huddy Park were police, fire department and first aid – run displays and activities. Attendees could inspect the inside of a cop car, learn more about the police’s Emergency Service Unit rescue equipment, scale a rock wall, observe K-9 demonstrations and more.
“Physical fitness is a very important thing in police work,” said Class 1 Officer Ray Zuhowski, who helped run the “Are You Better Than a Toms River Police Officer” station. Zuhowski noted the station was a fun way to “share fitness with the community.”
The Toms River Bureau of Fire Prevention taught attendees how operate a fire extinguisher, using an electronic fire for reference, of course.
“Most of the time we see the public, they’re in their worst time,” Fire Inspector and Investigator Matthew Janora said. A cornerstone of Janora’s work is public education and is a hallmark of National Night Out.
“We want to support the local police and first responders,” Toms River resident Nancy Hearne said. Hearne was a first-time attendee.
On the other side of Luker Bridge, various cultural organizations could be seen performing traditional songs and dances, a feature of Around the World in Toms River. Cultural and religious organizations in attendance invited community members to become more educated about diversity in their community. Attendees could visit each station with an event passport in hand. Once they received a stamp from each station, they received a mystery prize.
The goal? For attendees to “learn that we’re more alike than different” and “learn that we’re all one community” according to Chief Little.
“It’s like a family connection, people coming together,” said Reverend David Graham of the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ.
According to volunteer Ali Giberson, the Holy Cross Lutheran Church was in attendance “to celebrate Toms River diversity.”
“Next year’s gonna be twice as successful,” Chief Little said of the anticipated 2022 event.
National Night Out’s origins date back to 1984. The event is intended to foster the relationship with police departments and its communities. Today, National Night Out takes place across all 50 states and is typically held each year on the first Tuesday in August. To learn more about National Night Out, visit natw.org/about/.
To learn more about Toms River UNITED, visit their Facebook page @tomsriverunited.
To stay tuned about Toms River Police Department events, visit trpolice.org/events/.