There has been a lot to get done leading up to Saturday, the day of the Third Annual Kids Day in the Park. There are brightly colored plastic eggs to be stuffed, cases of food and drinks to be delivered and prepped, tables to set up and dozens of volunteers to report to their respective duties.
Members of the Good Friday Committee have been planning this event for months, and they’re doing it without spending money or charging for admission. They rely on fundraisers, donations and volunteers to make the family-friendly affair go off without a hitch.
The committee, a group of five who set out to give back to the North Tyler community, hosts the event at Emmett J. Scott Park, formerly Lincoln Park. They are: Amos Jones, Byron Tilley, Jimmy Jones Jr., Shirley Watkins and Ambra Phillips.
They chose to have the event, which attracted hundreds in previous years, because it holds special memories from some of the members’ childhood.
“That was the park that was closest to our grandmother’s home and that was the park we played at growing up,” Ambra Phillips said. “It was important for it to be there because there are often other events at area parks in the community but never at the park that felt most like home for us.”
Emmett J. Scott Park, at Confederate Avenue and West Vance Street, doesn’t attract large events. While it might not be as large or has as many features as other city parks, it’s home for many who are in need, committee members said.
“When we feed these kids and do this stuff, for some kids, it may be their only meal for that day and it may be the only fun thing they do that day,” Amos Jones, 43, said.
All activities will be at the park, and the Easter egg hunt will happen across the street at Texas College’s soccer field.
Jimmy Jones Jr., 43, remembered the days of free sack lunches and the Tyler Public Library’s bookmobile at the park. His nostalgia spurred the establishment of the annual event.
“It all started from a couple of people on Facebook reminiscing about Lincoln Park and the fun times we had,” he said.
Organizers estimate that about 500 children showed up the first year. That number swelled to 800 last year, with at least the same about of adults attending. More than 2,000 plastic and real eggs were donated.
Although the committee is composed of just five people, they said the generosity of the entire city is responsible for the event. They’ve worked with the city to block off streets, received food and donations from local companies, such as Tyler Golf Cars, Brookshire’s Grocery Company and John Soules Foods.
“The donations we receive are in the masses,” Ms. Phillips said. “Last year, I was in complete awe from the response of the community. … It was awesome to see the people come together and be so selfless.”
Barber and beauty shops have previously donated haircuts and hair services for children. The committee also gave away eight bicycles and some Dillard’s gift cards to help out with Easter outfits last year.
“I had to step back several times and take it all in,” Ms. Phillips said. “People were laughing, eating and smiling. There weren’t any problems, just people celebrating the way we believe God intended.”
This year, the group will add a balloon release to celebrate loved ones they’ve lost.
The philanthropic spirit doesn’t end with the day at the park. The group also holds fundraisers to feed several families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Ms. Phillips said they want the youth to take notice of young, black people doing something positive, instead of them being influenced by negative images and stereotypes. They also want the neighborhood kids to enjoy their childhood.
“Our prayer is that God is pleased with everything we do,” she said. “We just want to give the kids a lifetime memory — something they look forward to doing every year growing up, and hopefully, are able to take their children to as well. We want this to continue for years to come.”
Committee member Amos Jones echoes Ms. Phillips’ sentiments. He often speaks to and encourages the youth who may be headed on a wrong path.
“There is a better way, and there is somebody that actually cares whether, it’s my kids or somebody else’s kids,” he said. “You never know what a kid has been through or what they’re going through.”
So what is the message they hope people take away from the event? Unity.
“We want everybody to get along and love,” Jones said. “The No. 1 thing is love. We all have to love each other. … We don’t have to hang out but the Bible says you have to love them.”
Committee members aim to grow the event each year, with more food, fun and fellowship.
“It makes you feel good to know you’re doing something positive,” Jones said. “I can see myself doing it as long as I can.”