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How to Build a Better Block Party

A veteran South Orange block party hostess explains how to organize an event

Block parties are part of neighborhood tradition, a time for locals to come together and reunite after summer camp and vacations. Since fall schedules are already filling up with soccer, school and volunteer commitments, now is the time to put a block party on the calendar.  Veteran organizer Karen Gonsor DiScala of South Orange has a few suggestions for organizing a simple and “no frills” event.

“First,” she says, “choose a date in fall, before it gets too cold or dark too early. Then stick with the date, no matter whose birthday party or soccer game gets in the way.”

Once the date is chosen, DiScala applies for the party permit (see below for details). When the party is approved, the Police Department is notified, and DiScala receives permission to block off part of the street beside her home. She notes that many neighborhoods have an obvious spot for a party, whether it’s a quiet intersection or a large yard that owners are willing to share.

While DiScala and husband Todd have become unofficial organizers of the neighborhood’s annual event, she also suggests that first-time party organizers “accept all offers of help.” One task is notifying neighbors of the event, either via e-mail or by creating and distributing flyers. In past years, DiScala has sent her two children through the neighborhood, handing out invitations and telling neighbors about the party.

Another task is running errands on the day of the event, purchasing ice, meats and other perishable supplies. “We collect $15 from each family,” says DiScala. “We use that to buy meats for the grill, juice boxes for the kids, and paper products.”

She also asks each household to bring a dish. “Odd-numbered houses bring dessert, and evens bring a side or salad,” explains DiScala. Everyone is asked to bring light tables and chairs, and the adults bring beverages for themselves and to share. 

Neighbors whose homes are closest to the party offer their bathrooms, and someone generally connects a radio or CD player to an extension cord.

DiScala and her husband staff the grill, starting with “kid-friendly” food first. “It’s fun, easy, no stress for anyone,” she says, already looking forward to her neighborhood’s September event. “It’s a nice time to hang out with people I don’t see often enough."

In Maplewood, a block party requires a permit from the Township Clerk. The application form can be found online. The permit application, which must list the party date, times and address, should be completed 30 days before the party date, though the Clerk may waive this requirement. There is a $25 deposit required if residents choose to use barricades to delineate the party area.

South Orange also asks residents to complete a permit application, which can also be found online. The permit should be completed 21 days before the party date.

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