By JENNIFER GLACKIN
For The Leader/Times
CRANFORD — The rain held out long enough last Thursday for the first Storytime with Police and Fire at the gazebo in downtown Cranford. Children listened intently to “Officer Buckle and Gloria” by Peggy Rathman and “Firefighter Ted” by Andrea Beatty. Each book was read by one of Cranford’s emergency responders, with Lieutenant Matt Nazzaro representing the police department and Firefighter Wes Ditzel representing the fire department.
Caren Demyen, director of Cranford’s Downtown Management Corporation (DMC), came up with the idea and reached out to Police Chief Ryan Greco and Fire Chief Daniel Czeh, who agreed immediately. Ms. Demyen then contacted the Cranford Public Library, which supplied her with book titles. “We are lucky to have really supportive departments in town,” Ms. Demyen told The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times during a phone interview.
In addition to reading the stories, the officers handed out lollipops and plastic fire helmets, as well as answering questions and offering tours of a police car and the fire department’s rescue truck. Eager children were able to “drive” the police car and turn on the lights and sirens. The police officers even let the children use the loudspeaker to say “hello” to their parents.
Storytime is a great way to engage with Cranford’s youngest generation, Lieutenant Nazzaro told The Leader, and he mentioned that the department is already looking for ways to make the event more inclusive. Officer Nazzaro said the department’s youth division has had training to make sure everyone in the community is comfortable during interactions with the police, which became evident when an officer asked if a child with his hands on his ears was “sound sensitive.” Lieutenant Nazzaro said they discussed turning the police vehicle so the sirens would not be as loud for the children. “We want to make this a positive experience for the kids,” he said.
Firefighter Ditzel said the township’s firefighters are eager to get involved with the community this year, and particularly with children. Typically, the fire department visits Cranford schools in October for Fire Prevention Month but was unable to do so this past year because of Covid restrictions. Firefighter Ditzel said kids’ faces typically “light up” during school visits, and “to see that back on the kids’ faces (at the storytime) was pretty special.”
Different police officers and firefighters will volunteer each week at storytime.
Both the police and fire departments have other community outreach events planned this summer. The fire department will help local restaurant Avenue East refurbish the front doors. The police are running a “Hoagies for Helmets” program, where kids will receive a free “hoagie” or drink from the local Wawa if they are “caught” wearing their bike helmet by police officers. There also is a logo contest for youth artists ages 7 to 17, said Lieutenant Nazzaro. More information about the contest is available on the police department’s Facebook page.
The storytime event will be held weekly on Thursdays at 10 a.m. at the gazebo on North Union Avenue, which stands between the fire department and Cranford’s municipal building. Those interested in checking out the summer storytime program are invited to follow Downtown Cranford on Facebook and Instagram, where any necessary updates, such as weather cancellations, will be posted.
Ms. Demyen is happy the event was enjoyed by the children, parents, officers and firefighters. “All of our businesses are working really hard, and it’s been tough for families this past year and a half. Anything we can do to just bring some joy is a positive thing.”
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