By Jay Meisel
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - Once every year in communities throughout St. Lucie County, residents gather together for hamburgers, hotdogs and other food.
They get a chance to meet their neighbors and talk about what's going on.
But St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara, who visited several Neighborhood Night Out gatherings on Aug. 7, said the event has an impact throughout the year.
"Law enforcement can't do it alone," he said.
Fighting crime depends on partnerships with neighborhoods where people watch out for themselves, their neighbors and criminal activity, he said.
At each event he attended, Sheriff Mascara thanked residents for their involvement and gave organizers a Target gift card to show appreciation.
At many of the events, dozens of people gathered to spend time together while eating hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips and desserts. Some of the events had live entertainment.
Sheriff Mascara visited a gathering twice on Donlon Road, so he could get to sample organizer Dottie Vignuolo's peanut butter pie.
One of the largest gatherings was at Spanish Lakes Fairways in north St. Lucie County.
Sandy Hochella, an organizer, said the community is considered one of the safest in the county and National Night Out contributes to that.
It helps remind people about the necessity to keep their eyes open for possible criminal activity, she said.
Barbara, an organizer for the Golden Ponds neighborhood who did not want her last name used, agreed with those sentiments.
National Night Out brings communities together and heightens awareness of about what is going on around them, she said.
Sheriff Mascara thanked her for helping to keep the community safe.
"This is the best place for hamburgers," he said.
At the Savanna Club, near Port St. Lucie, the dozens of people entering the clubhouse for food saw classic antique cars put on display by the Savanna Classic Car Club.
On Rainbow Drive, a much smaller group of residents gathered and ate sandwiches, baked beans, brownies and other food.
Bob Conklin, who organized it, along with his wife, Nancy, said he's been doing it for more than 15 years.
He said he "agreed to take it on until someone else wants to do it and that was 15-20 years ago."