It might have seemed an odd pairing to some, but mixing an Easter celebration with a child pedestrian and bicycle safety event drew smiles of appreciation Saturday.
Two teens dressed in Easter Bunny costumes welcomed visitors and distributed bags of goodies as part of the Community Easter Party in the Litchfield City Hall parking lot. But the traditional also merged with something new as children were encouraged to participate in a Safety Town interactive exhibit where they rode pedal-powered three-wheelers through a child-sized replica of a town, complete with stoplights, railroad crossings and other vehicles.
Organized by Litchfield United Methodist Church, Litchfield Downtown Council and Greater Litchfield Opera House Association, the Community Easter Party drew an estimated 300 children to downtown Saturday. The event replaced the Easter egg hunt traditionally held in Central Park, which organizers decided to forego this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
“The kids seem just as excited as any other year,” said Robbie Brown, who helped plan the event through United Methodist Church.
“Very happy with the weather and turnout,” Darlene Kotelnicki, a City Council and Downtown Council member, said. “Glad we could sponsor an outside event that allowed for social distancing.”
Jesse Hudec, a transportation generalist with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and coordinator of the Meeker Safe Roads Coalition who brought the Safety Town exhibit to the event, said he thought it a great opportunity — and the perfect setting — to reach a target audience about pedestrian and bike safety.
“If we can teach them when they’re young, get them thinking about things like pedestrian and bike safety from the get-go, we can change the culture,” said Hudec, a Grove City resident and 20-year MnDOT employee. “They’ll grow up knowing how to be safe in different situations.”
Safety Town has been a feature at the Minnesota State Fair for several years, and MnDOT invested in a traveling exhibit last year, which had not been used prior to Saturday. Hudec said he was happy to make Litchfield the exhibit’s first stop.
Planning for the Easter party started late last year as Downtown Council members, including Kotelnicki and fellow City Council member Betty Allen, were discussing a calendar of events for downtown.
Brown said that when first contacted by the Downtown Council, she wasn’t sure about the United Methodist Church’s involvement, because of concerns about COVID. But the closer it got to Easter and spring, the closer she moved to wanting the church to participate in an Easter event.
“There had been upwards of 400 to 500 kids that came (to Central Park) for the Easter egg hunt,” Brown said. “And they came over to the Opera House right afterwards and it was just packed. It was a great pairing. So we knew it was a good partnership to continue on.
“You know this event today, it’s kind of all new, so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” Brown added. “We knew there was a good possibility we would make some mistakes. But you know, our hearts are in the right place. We wanted to bring something to the community after this length of time when there really hasn’t been anything.”
Volunteers from United Methodist Church, Litchfield Downtown Association and the Greater Litchfield Opera House Association helped fill 4,000 plastic Easter eggs with candy, and put those and other donated gifts into 600 goodie bags in preparation for Saturday’s party.
“Fortunately, we just have such a great relationship ... the local businesses have been so kind and generous, you know, in donating gifts for the bags that we filled,” Brown said. “It’s really, you know, we called it a Community Easter Party, because it’s really been a community effort. Everybody really was working together to do something. So that was really kind of special.”