Elkhart Youth Fest & Food Drive draws crowds and entertainment

The Tolson Community Center sponsored a youth festival that is pushing back against community tensions and violence with a positive experience.

Posted on July 26, 2014 at 7:49 p.m.

Information vendors, games, dance performances and magic shows came out for the second annual Elkhart County Youth Fest & Food Drive on Saturday, July 26 at the Tolson Community Center

There was also an ongoing food drive throughout the day. 

By 1 p.m., there had already been more than 400 visitors and more than 500 hotdogs cooked. The turnout made the change in location an apparent choice in hindsight. Last year, the festival was held downtown. This year, the Tolson Center wanted to not only make it more accessible for the south side neighborhoods, but also bring the community to their neighborhood. 

Clyde Riley, Director of the Tolson Center, pointed out that Tolson’s attendance has doubled since this time last year, and the level of diversity has also increased. 

"The location has made it easier and made it more accessible for the community around here," said Riley. "The idea is also to bring the community [from outside of this neighborhood] down here so they can see what we have here at Tolson."

Jamal Turpin, 7, has been coming to the Tolson Center for the past year. His favorite activities at the center are playing Xbox and computer games. Today, his favorite activities have been water balloons and the inflated Army Bootcamp obstacle course. 

Though the games and performances were a huge part of the event, the food drive was a key factor for many. 

"It helps spread the word of what is going on in this community and it really helps us give back to our neighbors,” said Alexander Williams, Director of the food bank with Church Community Services. “Our neighbors could be hungry and we would never know.” 

For Rechica Ledesma, Tolson Program Coordinator, the timing couldn't be better for the festival. 

"There is a lot of things going on in the south side that need to be addressed and its nice to see the agencies come together for one day and at one time to say, ’Hey, we are here for you.’"

Ledesma said she wants to show the community what kind of services are available to them at any given time. 

Jeremy Greenlee, a volunteer with Granger Community Church said he saw the day as on opportunity to push back against violence and community tensions with something good. 

"There has been a disconnect between the Elkhart Police Department and the community so I think finding ways to reconcile that by creating positive experiences in the community is a step in the right direction."

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