This column appeared previously in The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Until last year, the South Amherst July 4th celebration had been an annual event since the 1940s, when it started as a community gathering organized by South Church Amherst.
In recent years the event has been organized at the grassroots level, with no sponsors, no funding other than donations, and fully staffed by volunteers. The event had to be cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The beautiful thing about this event is that it is entirely kid-focused, with a tricycle parade around the South Amherst Common (bikes, scooters, strollers, and non-motorized floats are also welcomed), games like the three-legged race, potato-sack race, and penny scramble, and free watermelon, ice cream, and lemonade for all. Neighbors greet neighbors, kids reconnect with old friends and make new friends, and everyone has a lovely time and hopefully doesn’t get too sunburned.
“This is what the Fourth of July should be about,” is a sentiment often heard at the event.
And yet, while so many families love this event and attend every year, it has been difficult to recruit volunteers to organize it. Jeanne Esposito of Middle Street, who organized the event for almost 20 years, passed the reins to me in 2017. An event like this doesn’t happen on its own or overnight, and requires several months of planning, coordinating, and communicating, not to mention many hands on the day of to set up chairs, put up road closure signs, slice watermelon, wrangle participants, and more.
Ideally, the event would have an organizing committee made up of a chair and members who are each in charge of one area: publicity, refreshments, parade, program, games, logistics. Not to mention that this year, organizing the event has additional challenges — there will be no requirements for masks or social distancing, however, this event targets the very population that is unable to be vaccinated at this time (children under 12). An organizing committee would be able to work together to plan the needed precautions, and to implement the plan.
Will the South Amherst July 4th celebration be another victim of the pandemic? Will we look back and recall that the beloved annual event had to be cancelled in 2020 and then it never got up and running again? Or will we look back at 2021 as the year the event was revitalized, when it attracted new volunteers who put on a family-friendly and kid-focused event at a time when the community needed it more than ever?
The answer lies with you, the (South) Amherst community. (Amherst folks who do not identify as “South Amherst” are welcomed too!) Do you want to see this event live on so that a new generation of Amherst kids can enjoy it? Do you have some capacity from now until July 4th to help organize a community event? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
Jennifer Page is the parent of an APRS student, a UMass Amherst employee, and former Town Meeting member.