LIVINGSTON, NJ — Family Festival Day took place at the Livingston Oval Saturday in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Youth Appreciation Week (YAW) in Livingston. With many traditional favorites such as a petting zoo, pony rides, arts and crafts, face painting, inflatable rides, a Chalk Walk and the World’s Largest Robotics Junior FIRST LEGO League Outdoor Expo, YAW Event Chair Alan Karpas considers Family Festival Day the biggest day of the week.

The evening concluded with the annual town “camp out,” run by the Boy Scout Troops 12 & 16, along with Cub Scout Pack 16. A campfire, skits, and a showing of the feature film The LEGO Movie entertained children of all aged free of charge under the stars.

“It’s really a week where we’re giving back to the kids in the community for all that they do,” Martha Ackermann, one of YAW’s organizers, said. “The weather was perfect, we had record crowds and everybody seemed to be extremely happy with all the activities — it was just unbelievable, it was really the perfect day.”

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According to Ackermann, the Family Festival Day celebration was predominantly meant to be a day that enabled kids of all ages, genders and abilities to have fun free of charge. Six teams from Livingston participated in a Junior FIRST LEGO League Expo hosted by the Livingston Robotics Club; children created Arts and Crafts run by five Girl Scout Troops in town; the Messy Artist featured pieces from its Artist Harvest collection and offered an interactive art experience; the Recycling & Reclamation Committee offered recycling games; the YMCA featured fun & fitness games; the LHS Art Honor Society painted faces; and the Livingston Police and Fire Departments offered games, prizes and educational activities throughout the day.

"These children deserve an environment where they can run and play safely, and to feel successful as they play a sport at their own pace,” said West Essex YMCA Associate Executive Director Cheryl Francione, who sponsored a fitness event at the festival. “There were tons of smiles and shared laughter as these children had an opportunity to shine.”

While the event was free of charge, this year’s organizers encouraged the community to contribute to the Family Festival Day’s Food Drive as suggested admission and to help “Stuff the Bus” with Food For the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW). The food drive, run by The Livingston Robotics Club, was a community-wide challenge to fill a large school bus with food. 

CHOW currently assists 20 Livingston families in need and serves as a feeder for other families in surrounding towns. According to CHOW committee member Stacey Rubinstein, CHOW collected more than 20 bags of groceries at the festival Saturday as well as many boxes of KIND bars donated by the ShopRite of Livingston.

“It was wonderful to see children bringing cans and bags of food,” Rubinstein said. “The collection also served as an opportunity to educate people about CHOW and let them know that the pantry exists.”

The Messy Artist, an art studio in East Hanover, displayed half of its Artist Harvest collection in the Livingston Food Day tent at the festival. Food Day, a nationwide celebration focused on access to healthy foods, was created to inspire positive changes in diets and food policies. Livingston is an active participant in this “real food” movement and has hosted Food Day events for the past three years. The Messy Artist’s Artist Harvest collection, a concept conceived by Messy Artist CEO Donna Bernstein, excited children and adults Saturday about fruits and vegetables while also honoring the style of a famous artist. 

The Livingston Robotics Club, which showcased science research projects and LEGO robotics designed by groups of six-to nine-year-olds from several Northern New Jersey towns, ran the food drive Saturday by grilling and serving food to the families and encouraging them to donate.

“CHOW serves as a safety net for the families that use it,” said. “And while we can imagine that times are stressful for these families, we have been told that they are incredibly appreciative and at times overwhelmed by the support provided by our community. It provides some relief so families can focus on other necessities and get things back on track or get through a tough time.”

The afternoon also consisted of a Bike Rodeo, the YAW 2015 GaGa Challenge at the Gazebo and the Ultimate Frisbee Competition sponsored by The Landroids for High School age students and older. Boy Scout Troops 12 and 16, along with Cub Scout Pack 16, lead the evening’s events, including Tug-of-War, Water Balloon Slingshot, Silent Speedball, a Campfire and a late-night showing of The LEGO Movie under the stars.

DJ Zap Music was honored to be involved in such a wonderful community event,” said Livingston resident Jason Zaplin, who provided live music for the event. “I know that everyone had a blast. We live in an amazing town where family activities like this are very important to our community.”

The YAW committee invites all Livingston families to the Cole Bros. Circus Sunday, including a Raise the Tent breakfast ceremony at 7:15 a.m. and Performances at
2:30 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. This year’s Memorial Day Parade will start at 9:30 a.m. Monday with a ceremonial service at the Oval to commemorate those who have died defending the United States.  At 10 a.m., after the ceremony, the parade will start on S. Livingston Avenue and will end at Congressional Way.

“Youth Appreciation Week helps to give Livingston that small-town fell and is just one of the many things that make our town special,” Livingston Youth Librarian Gina Vaccaro said. “The organizers Alan Karpas and Martha Ackermann work tirelessly all week to bring our community together in exciting, fun ways all week long. I love knowing that once Youth Appreciation Week hits, summer is right around the corner.”