by Marie Elena Giossi
Radio Disney kept things rockin’ along Newtown Avenue from Crescent Street to 23rd Street for the sixth annual Kids Fun Day, co-sponsored by Catholic Charities Queens Community Center in Astoria and Fidelis Care.
Hundreds of Astoria families enjoyed this free street festival, which featured more than a dozen activities, including an NYPD rock wall, a bounce house, face painting, an FDNY Smoke House, sidewalk games and crafts with the Queens Museum of Art.
Perhaps the biggest attraction was the free bike helmet giveaway, courtesy of AAA, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and the NY Coalition for Transportation Safety. More than 75 children were fitted with free helmets and received safety literature in Spanish and English.
Other free giveaways included drawstring bags with school supplies, reading books, T-shirts and snacks.
Throughout the event, youngsters hugged two of their favorite characters – Dora and her cousin Diego – while older children high-fived Johnny Thunderbird, mascot of the St. John’s University Red Storm.
Debbie Hampson, director of Catholic Charities Queens Community Center, smiled as she walked up and down the street, snapping photos along the way.
“It’s a day to bring the community together,” she said. “This is the largest agency event and it’s completely free.”
Sixth Annual Kids Fun Day in Astoria
Families Lined Up for Early Registration
Catholic Charities and Fidelis Care Sponsored the Day
Youngsters Received Free School Supplies and Reading Books
Children Were Fitted with Free Bike Helmets
Families Learned About Health Insurance Through Fidelis Care
Blood Pressure Screenings Were Offered to Adults
Asthma Awareness Was Also Part of the Day
Debbie Hampson Snapped Pics and Jumped in a Few
The Queens Museum of Art Conducted Crafts
St. John's University Mascot Johnny Thunderbird Flew In
Ball Shooting, Hopscotch and Bean Bag Throws Added to the Fun
Daring Boys and Girls Climbed the NYPD Rock Wall
Radio Disney Provided Music for Singing and Dancing
Balloon Animals and Face Painting Were Special Treats
Real Community Event
Started in 2009, Kids Fun Day began as a way to distribute free back-to-school supplies to area children, especially those from low-income, immigrant families. From 400 children in its first year to 1,300 who participated in the rain last year, Hampson said the event has grown into a real community happening with health screenings and city and local resources for both children and adults.
Families also had the opportunity to learn about Catholic Charities and the social services offered through the Queens Community Center, including a food panty, Mommy and Me, financial literacy classes and education and employment workshops.
Hampson said the center, based in the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish school, draws 300 people daily.
By offering this event, “people have access to things they wouldn’t normally tap into,” Hampson said. Furthermore, they meet the people who work in the community center and make a connection with them.
“The staff really believes in what they’re doing,” Hampson added. “Hopefully, people can see the grace of God through them.”
This event also attracted volunteers from outside the diocese – 29 teenagers and six youth leaders on a Brooklyn-based mission trip from St. Francis de Sales Church in Holland, Mich. They helped with registration, ran games, distributed snacks and danced with the children.
In planning the trip, Kevin Hilgert, youth ministry director, reached out to Catholic Charities because of the “wealth of services and care they offer. I think it’s a powerful example to our youth and leaders too.”
For missioner Riley Vaara, 14, it was a “life-changing experience” being able to help younger children, like a little boy she taught how to hula hoop.
“I’ve learned that if you put in some effort, you can change someone’s day,” she said.
The block party changed the course of the day for Maria Sidor and her daughter Marlee, 6. After a morning outing in their new neighborhood – they moved in one month ago – they were headed home for a quiet afternoon when Marlee spotted the festivities.
“We were just passing by and decided to stop in,” Maria said, smiling at her daughter, who was hugging Dora. “I’m glad we did. There’s so much information available.” †