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Eastside Lodi neighbors mingle at National Night Out

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Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:48 am, Wed Aug 3, 2011.

When Jason Weller and his wife, Jenessa, were looking at homes in Lodi about two years ago, friends and family members couldn't believe they were considering homes on East Tokay Street.

But as more than 100 residents snacked on hot dogs, pozole and grilled corn the 300 block of East Tokay Street during National Night Out on Tuesday evening, Jason Weller said introducing neighbors to each other is an important part of improving communities.

"Now that people are meeting each other, neighbors will be able to tell if someone in a nearby yard should be there or if they are up to something," he said. "Now we know each other and can look out for one another."

The Wellers were just one couple among scores scattered throughout Lodi who dipped into their own pockets to help fund Tuesday's festivities. Their efforts were supported by the Lodi Police Department and Lodi Fire Department, which made appearances at multiple block parties.

The event offers an opportunity to meet fellow neighbors and local law enforcement agencies. It also helps build or improve existing relationships between the two, Jason Weller said.

For residents of a block surrounded by gang violence in recent months, Tuesday served as an opportunity to make those connections, said Zonia Maldonado, who lives with her boyfriend's family on East Tokay Street.

"If you meet an officer and get a business card from them, you may be more willing to call them when something happens," she said. "It's more personal than just calling a dispatcher at random. You feel like you've met someone who cares about your community."

A member of the residence where Maldonado is staying began making pozole — a Mexican stew with braised pork — at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Her husband was grilling corn to pass out to neighbors. Down the street, Jason Weller was offering free hot dogs from his cart, Jason's Hot Dogs.

"I couldn't charge these people tonight," he said. "These are my neighbors."

While the police may be the public agency most associated with National Night Out, Capt. Todd Luke of the Lodi Fire Department said it's important for his organization to be involved as well.

"We are part of the community too," he said. "People see us out on calls and we like to make appearances at public events."

Although three firefighters pulled up to East Tokay Street in a gleaming firetruck worth a quarter of a million dollars, the metallic stickers shaped like badges they were handing out received the most attention from the children.

"They always love the stickers," Luke said as he was flanked by six children, eagerly waiting for their adhesive prize. "The kids on the Eastside also aren't as shy about approaching us, it seems."

The party on East Tokay Street drew in visitors from surrounding neighborhoods.

Hazel Jackson hosted a National Night Out gathering near her residence on Pleasant Avenue last year. But she rode her bike to Jason Weller's place to participate in his festivities this time around.

"Events like this are great because they are really for the kids," she said, gesturing to a Mickey Mouse bounce house donated by E Party Jumpers. "That will help the parents meet each other because they will want to know who their kids are hanging out with."

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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