(Courtesy of Friendship Circle) Mark Henderson had barely entered the CARnival on Sunday when he proclaimed, “This is the most fun we’ve had in a long time.” Sitting beside him, his son Louis was eager to show his agreement, with a huge smile, his hands waving and his body swaying in excitement.
The day featured bright skies and bright smiles as more than 550 people took part in the social distancing event from Friendship Circle and LifeTown. The CARnival saw the LifeTown parking lot transformed into an outdoor carnival with balloons, arcade games that could be played from inside the car, prizes, a petting zoo, a clown on stilts and bubble car wash.
“The goal,” said Friendship Circle CEO Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, “was to ease the sense of loneliness our families have been feeling and give them a chance to get out and enjoy a beautiful day together while maintaining social distance.”
The CARnival also gave children with special needs and their families an opportunity to express their appreciation to the emergency workers by coloring a 14,000-square-foot “Thank U Health Heroes” chalk mural.
“It’s just so nice to get out of the house and be so welcomed by everyone at Friendship Circle and LifeTown,” said Tara Stauber as her three children, Emma, 9; Jack, 6; and Samuel, 3; worked on the mural. The family lives in an apartment in Hoboken, so “to be able to come out and be some place and have fun—it’s a great way to end the school year and start the summer.”
This was the first Friendship Circle or LifeTown program the Staubers had attended and they were thrilled by the program. “I’m super impressed by the volunteers and how everyone was so careful that the kids had fun. It’s such an inclusive environment.”
Lisa Lebowitz of Glen Ridge brought her seven-year-old son, Daniel Weissman, to the CARnival and they were both excited for the event, “especially since we’ve been cooped up at home and Daniel’s been playing his iPod a lot, so it’s nice to do something that’s not on a screen.”
Daniel said his favorite part of the CARnival was the car bubble wash.
Volunteers Julie Plotsker and her son Joey, 12, from West Orange, came out to help ensure that others had a great day. Joey said he was pretty bored just staying at home, “and this makes me feel better. It makes me happy to see the children happy.”
Added his mother, “It’s an amazing organization and thank God we are fortunate so that we can do this.”
Ethan Amsterdam, 14, of Livingston, had heard about the Friendship Circle, but never volunteered with the group before. With classes finished for the summer and his Sunday free, he decided the CARnival would be a good way to spend his day.
As he ran the ice pop concession cart, Ethan said, “I think this is awesome. Everyone seems so happy.”
And that, said organizers, was the goal of the day.