Clark Park neighbors work to bring back community-wide events

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A free pantry located on the corner of James and Daniel in the Clark Park neighborhood is part of the efforts made by community leaders. Fresh produce, food, masks and other items were available for free.

In a normal year, the Clark Park neighborhood is known to have a full list of annual events for residents to attend throughout the fall and winter holiday seasons.

But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly limiting the ability for community leaders to plan and host their staple events.

Typically, each year the neighborhood hosts four standard events with a few extra, smaller events in between. These events include a parade around the park for the Fourth of July, a family movie night in September, a costume parade and festival around Halloween and a tree lighting in December. 

Traci Quigg Thomas, Facebook page group leader for the neighborhood association, described the events as being “big community building types of events” that are well attended by residents each year.

“A lot of times with the Halloween parade, for example, we probably had 200 people there each year, including people from outside of the neighborhood who grew up here years ago that would come back with their kids too,” said Thomas. 

Since March, though, the event planning committee has had to halt all planning and scheduling of activities hosted in the park due to social distancing guidelines. 

The park in the neighborhood, located in northwest Champaign, was completely closed off during the first phases of the pandemic. Basketball hoops and tennis nets were removed, equipment was taped off and the park as a whole was considered off limits as an attempt by the county to eliminate spread of the virus during heightened periods of infection rate. 

The 61821 zip code, which includes Clark Park, has had 549 confirmed cases of COVID-19 according to data from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District

Clark Park also is in close proximity to the University of Illinois campus, where social distancing restrictions have been heightened throughout the semester as more than 2,700 tested positive for the virus.

Without residents having their usual standard of coming together as a community, the committee has had to work to find other options.

One committee member, Andrea Franklin, said that while the committee has not yet hosted any virtual or distanced, in-person variations of events, they have promoted a few other independent activities families were able to partake in from a distance.

“We have promoted different [activities] such as [posting photos of] bears or four leaf clovers in windows so folks can take their families on walks or rides around the neighborhood and look for them,” said Franklin in an email.

Alongside these smaller opportunities to connect, the neighborhood Facebook page has also shared a few efforts from several residents to come together as a community during these isolating times.

Brittany Michaels, another member of the events planning committee, said in an email that neighbors throughout Clark Park have been conducting “unique efforts” to engage with each other such as food and household item drives, as well as “mask trees”, where neighbors can donate any extra masks they may have.

For Halloween, the committee tried to phase in some in-person events outdoors at the park back into the schedule with safety guidelines in place. 

#CUpumpkinhunt was an event hosted over Halloween in the Clark Park neighborhood.

They held a scavenger hunt involving handing out individual treat bags in the park. The plan involved open-ended hours through one weekend to avoid overcrowding in large groups.

Greg Stock, Champaign City Council member representing Clark Park’s District 4, said in an email that “one of the earliest Champaign deaths from [COVID-19] actually lived along the park and was well-known in the neighborhood. Bearing that in mind, I am sure [the committee is] planning their event with safety in mind.”

“We’ll be reminding people to wear masks, to have hand sanitizer. We’ll have larger time spans for events, so people aren’t congregating and so that a large group of people aren’t coming at once,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that restrictions “have loosened a little bit” since earlier in the year and thus, the committee is prioritizing hosting some kind of event for the kids and families in the neighborhood. 

Besides their own potential events, the neighborhood page has also shared different socially-distanced Halloween activities being hosted by the Champaign Park District, including “The Great Pumpkin Hunt” being held throughout the entirety of the month of October.

The neighborhood has also shared alternative options for trick-or-treating along with recommended safety guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Because the Clark Park community is close to the University of Illinois campus, committee members explained that they also keep this in mind as a priority when planning events. 

The past seven-day positivity rate on campus is currently 0.40%.

“Even though we could probably do things that students are probably not supposed to be doing on campus, I don’t think that’s being a good neighbor to the campus community,” said Thomas.

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