S. Side event harvests fun, unity
By Sean Barron
Seeing youngsters gathered at an outdoor festival enjoying candy, popcorn and hot dogs pleases Victoria Allen, but it’s probably safe to say that the event’s purpose is more fulfilling to her.
“My passion is children’s safety and unity,” Allen, president of the ICU Block Watch group, said of Sunday’s first Neighborhood Harvest gathering at St. Dominic Church, 77 E. Lucius Ave., on the city’s South Side.
Sponsors of the free, two-hour fest were the church and the 1-year-old block-watch program, which covers East Lucius, Boston, Philadelphia and Avondale avenues.
Several hundred children and adults endured temperatures in the mid-40s and a stiff wind to attend the event, which was to provide youngsters with a safe place and to give attendees an opportunity to form positive relationships with police and other safety-force members, noted Patty Bowser, the block-watch group’s vice president.
It also was intended to provide fun and enjoyment for children whose parents might be fearful of their youngsters going trick-or-treating today, Bowser said.
Members of the Youngstown police and fire departments, a SWAT crisis-response team, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Rural Metro Ambulance were on hand, along with Capt. Bill Hack of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department’s Dive Team.
Many youngsters clustered around a table that Hack had set up to view several .38-caliber guns, a Ruger 9 mm shotgun, a 7 mm Japanese sniper rifle used during World War II and other firearms — all of which the team had recovered from McKelvey Lake in Youngstown. Also on display were a pair of goggles and a metal detector his team often uses on such expeditions.
“A lot of these [firearms] were recovered during practice dives and can be connected to a crime,” Hack explained, adding that the finds were removed from the lake within the last year.
Hack, who formed the 35-member team in 1959, noted that, despite many people’s beliefs to the contrary, dive-team members volunteer their time and are not paid by the sheriff’s department. The team consists of doctors, attorneys, police officers, firefighters and others, said Hack, who also conducts one or two indoor or outdoor training dives each month.
Some youngsters conversed with police and firefighters while others seemed content to walk through and around a firetruck and the SWAT team’s large tanklike vehicle.
Allen first contacted Father Gregory Maturi, pastor of St. Dominic Church, who approved the use of the parking lot for the event, then the safety-force members.
Allen said the main problems in nearby neighborhoods are juvenile violence, burglaries and young people walking in streets instead of using sidewalks. Grocery stores, family-style restaurants, the return of more businesses and more activities for youngsters are needed, she continued, adding that the vast majority of residents are law abiding and caring.
The area also has been plagued by high-profile homicides, including the slaying of 80-year-old Angeline Fimognari, who was shot in the head Jan. 23, 2010, in the church’s parking lot.
Nevertheless, “I’m trying to bring unity back in the home and the community,” she said.