On the first night of October last year, a new resident showed up in University Place.
A scarecrow had arrived in the Lawrence neighborhood, making its way from yard to yard. It moved during the night, and in the morning, the neighborhood children were usually the first to notice its new location. Soon the adults were just as amused by it as the kids were, posting photos with it when it finally showed up in their yard.
The scarecrow’s journey through the neighborhood was part of resident Scott Gustafson’s determination to give his neighbors a fun Halloween despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly eight months later, he’s hard at work planning the neighborhood’s Fourth of July celebration.
“In a lot of ways, it’s a chance for us to reconnect,” Gustafson said. “We’re finally seeing each other again and we’re seeing each other’s faces again for the first time in 15 months.”
The 4th of July event is set to begin at 9 a.m. and will continue into the evening, beginning with a kickball game for neighbors of all ages and ending with picnic-style food and small fireworks. There will be things throughout the event for both the kids and the adults of the neighborhood to enjoy, Gustafson said.
He is also planning a kids costume parade — but instead of sporting the usual 4th of July attire, the kids will parade through the neighborhood dressed as their favorite animals.
“I didn’t want to do just a typical red, white and blue situation,” Gustafson said. “This will give the kids something to think about over the next couple weeks as they prepare their costumes, and some of the older kids will even make their own costumes.”
Gustafson wants to give his neighbors a chance to engage with one another again in a way they haven’t been able to throughout the pandemic. He and his family moved to Lawrence in 2019, and he just barely missed the opportunity to throw the type of big Halloween party he’d always thrown back in San Antonio. Although big parties had become unsafe by the following year, Gustafson said he still wanted to do something special for his neighborhood.
Halloween was luckily a holiday that already encouraged mask-wearing because of costumes, and the October weather lent itself well to outdoor events. The festivities began with the traveling scarecrow — which Gustafson said he was almost caught moving at least a couple times.
The month of the scarecrow’s travels eventually led to a Halloween celebration complete with a costume parade and trick-or-treating. Residents got creative with ways to keep trick-or-treating COVID-safe, such as decorating tubes or making slingshots to give candy to kids from a distance.
“It was a chance for a lot of the adults to really reimagine Halloween for themselves,” Gustafson said. “So often you just do the same thing where you just buy some candy and put it in a bucket. This was a chance for them to sort of think creatively, like ‘We have a problem, let’s solve it in a way that’s fun for us as well as the kids.'”
Mandy Enfield, a University Place resident who helped Gustafson organize the Halloween celebration, said the successful turnout of Halloween showed how much the neighborhood valued community connection. Many kids especially missed out on the learning this year that comes with interacting with each other, she said, whether that’s through a costume parade or through playing on the playground at recess.
“I think all efforts like this are just so important and essential,” Enfield said. “It’s been really great to see people and the neighbors wanting to do that work and make those connections for the kids.”
Even though coming together hasn’t looked the same throughout the past 15 months, Gustafson said the neighborhood’s sense of identity has grown stronger than it was before. Staying at home meant residents had a new chance to appreciate the people who were close by.
One thing was important to him in October and still will be in July.
“It’s really important to me that my neighbors like their neighborhood,” Gustafson said. “And that the kids, especially during the pandemic, are able to still have magical holiday moments.”