The Fourth of July is the second most important holiday set aside for celebration and partying in the US. The first, but only by the slightest of margins is, of course, New Year's Eve. Both festive days are know for celebrations at which food, drink, fireworks and fun are the main ingredients. Daylight hours during Fourth of July weekends are filled with an assortment of parades, picnics, barbecues, and outdoor entertainment events, while the evenings are reserved for parties and fireworks.
In recent years though it has not always been possible for everyone wanting to celebrate the 4th of July to do as lavishly as before. Let's face it, if taxpayer supported municipal, county and state governments have had to scale down July 4th celebrations because of budget constraints, it stands to reason taxpayers do too.
A tight budget does not mean a 4th of July party can not be as fun filled and memorable as any other, nor the food less tasty, nor the drink flowing any less. In fact, a party costing less can offer so much more...
HAVE A NEIGHBORHOOD STREET PARTY
One of the best 4th of July parties I ever attended was a neighborhood street party. It was an all day and most of the night event, with live music and more food and drink than twice the number of people could have consumed. I sought out the master minds behind the celebration and asked how it all came about.
The concept was deemed up by a couple of local residents who polled the neighbors within a 4 block square, asking if they would be interested in attending a neighborhood get together at the crossed intersection of the 4 blocks involved. Almost 80% indicated they would attend. Those that declined to attend were then asked to sign a waiver stating that they did not object to a street party. Since most were going to be leaving town or at least not be at home on the night of the party there were only a couple of hold outs who, once they found out they were in a very small minority, chose to allow the show to go on.
Since there was live entertainment, a lot of food, and both alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, as well as contests and games for kids with very nice prizes, I had to ask how the event was paid for. My assumption was that there was an admittance fee.
It was one of those newer housing developments that were hit hardest in the 2008 sub-prime mortgage scandal, with most homes having mortgages that far exceeded the value of the property, so money was the one commodity that was in short supply. Solution, attendance for neighborhood residents was absolutely free. I was impressed, assuming I was talking to a couple of very generous people who had foot the bill for the entire neighborhood to enjoy the 4th of July in the festive manner it should be. Wrong.
One of the ladies behind the event was a marketing genius. The first goal was to have everyone attend, and she knew that would require free admission because some of the local residents simply could not afford even a token admittance fee. Of course if the attendance was 100%, approval for the party by all of the neighbors would be automatic. So it was a free event, but who was paying the tab?
Corporate sponsors of course! The 4th Of July Party Planning Committee first approached the utility companies that served the 4 block area, armed with a mock up of the newsletter that would be circulated to all of the neighbors, which also indicated the website address where all of the photos and names of sponsors would be displayed. It seems the two ladies felt that the utility companies should give back something to their customers and were quite willing to use a very friendly form of extortion to motivate them to do so. What was contributed was not a lot, after all it was only 4 square blocks. However, what was donated was enough to pay the overtime for the police officers needed to have the security level required by the city to grant a permit to hold the event. Having a event permit in hand then qualified them for an event liquor license. It seems non alcoholic beverages were free, not so for those containing alcohol, which was restricted to wine and beer, but was only $1 per glass.
Once the event permit and liquor license were in hand, the ladies approached beverage and wholesalers, but not to purchase product. Rather the idea was they would sponsor the event. Ironically, the wholesalers actually bid to be the supplier at the exclusion of all others, not only supplying product but also logo imprinted umbrellas, table cloths, a beer tent, hats, t-shirts and so on. A local restaurant even catered the event. The food consisted of hot dogs, ribs and potato salad supplied by a local supermarket. Of course the restaurant staff were all wearing uniforms, so their employer was well represented.
The two bands were local and had not only volunteered to play, but managed to have someone contribute lighting and sound equipment, again emblazoned with logos.
Fireworks were courtesy of an "anonymous" donation. Boxes of them were left on the doorstep of the local fire department with instructions they were to be delivered to the 4th Of July Party Planning Committee for the neighborhood. It's no mystery that the benefactor was a more well off neighbor, or someone working for the city who was involved in permit approvals because the delivery address was included. There was also instructions on who to bill for the overtime use of a fire department vehicle and attending firemen to safely shoot off the fireworks. However, the instructions that the benefactor wished to not be named were respected.
So all in all, a 4th of July party that was no doubt the talk of the town for days, and for the neighborhood for a lot longer, was a roaring success. I asked what the actual cash outlay was, and you'd think I'd made a joke there was so much laughter. It turns out they ended up almost $600 in the black. I forgot that the beer and wine had been donated but was sold for $1 a glass. The surplus was used to buy shrubs. A landscaping company owned by a neighborhood resident planted them in empty lots within the 4 block area that the developer had abandoned to weeds, devaluing the homes in the area even further.
I asked what they, as organizers of a non profit event got out of it. "Well, we got to meet our neighbors", said one. The other replied, "Where we live now really is a neighborhood, everyone smiles at each other now." When asked if they were going to do the same again next year that answer was, "Of course, but it won't be a neighborhood street party. No, this entire district will be invited next year."