In most cities, towns and states, Sept. 27 was just another random fall day on the calendar, but for more than 900 members of the Muncie community, tonight was the third Muncie’s Bridge Dinner.
Anyone driving past would barely be able to see through the crowds of people forming mile-long lines at vendor stations to get pizza, hotdogs and beer.
But with a closer look, one would see young children carelessly exploring under tables, people steering large inflatable ducks down the White River and catch a glimpse of the sense of community Muncie has.
“I really love the Muncie’s Bridge Dinner because it’s a community event that the community really creates for itself,” said Erin Moore, the program manager with the Office of Community Engagement. “We provide a space for people to come together, but really what makes it amazing are the people that come. They choose to make it amazing. They choose to enjoy our city and engage with their neighbors.”
The first Muncie’s Bridge Dinner was in September 2017 and stemmed from a presentation by author Peter Kageyama, whose book, “Love Where You Live,” talks about how great things can often get overlooked in a community.
In his book, Kageyama spoke about how larger cities have their own versions of Bridge Dinners that are meant to give community members a different perspective on the world they live in.
“We wanted to continue what Peter Kageyama called ‘Love Notes’ in Muncie. We wanted to help people connect to Muncie emotionally,” Moore said. “We want everyone who lives here to love their community.”
Moore also said the planning committee, which is made up of more than 20 organizations in Muncie, wanted to create an event everyone could attend and participate in for free, so anyone who attends the Bridge Dinner does not have to “spend a dime.”
For the first event, Moore said they planned for roughly 250 people, but from the time they created the event on EventBrite to the day of, more than 500 people reserved places.
“At first we started freaking out,” Moore said. “We didn’t know how many people could be on the bridge, and since we had never done it before, we really had to sit down and rethink our plans.
“I sent out an email to all of the people who had signed up, so that they would know that the lines may be long, but everyone was so great. They just wanted to be together, enjoying the evening.”
This year, more than 960 people registered on EventBrite, and Moore said there were probably more in attendance.
Across the bridge, 25 tables were set up in four sections, covered in brown paper with crayons that people could draw on. There was also candy and centerpieces colored by local children.
Additionally, Moore said the planning committee expanded their food options and local vendor list so people would have more opportunities to get Muncie merchandise and food lines would be faster.
“There really is no set agenda for this event,” Moore said. “We really just want to provide a great opportunity for people to see the best of Muncie and experience the best feelings that come with Muncie.”
Aaron Brunsaun, one vendor, is the owner of Muncie Art Farm, and he said he has lived in Muncie since 1994. This was his second time working the Muncie’s Bridge Dinner, and he said he was happy to be involved because he enjoys seeing everyone together.
“I think anything that brings people outside to enjoy local things together is positive,” Brunsaun said.
Alongside vendors, Moore said the planning committee also took Ball State students into consideration. The group wanted everyone to be able to attend including those who only temporarily live in Muncie.
“We chose the Washington Street Bridge because it is a bridge between campus and downtown,” Moore said. “We know that transportation can be a problem, so we wanted something that students could walk to, as well as take the bus.
“We want students to get connected to the city itself and not just campus. We wanted students to get to feel the sense of community that Muncie truly holds.”
By making Muncie’s Bridge Dinner accessible for students, they were able to mingle with locals like Joe Schok, who has lived in Muncie for 66 years.
Schok said he mostly came to watch his grandson play in the Muncie Central Band, but he also enjoys getting to see all of the people including those he knows but doesn’t often see.
Erin Williams is another local who attended the dinner for her second time. She said she has lived in Muncie for only 2 ½ years, but she feels really connected to the community each time she comes to the event.
“I like seeing all the people out having a good time,” Williams said. “There are so many great events that downtown Muncie puts on, and I think it shows how well the city is able to come together and unite.”
In the future, Moore said she hopes that her and the planning committee can continue to experiment with the event and potentially find new places to host it, even though she feels like many people are attached to the bridge.
“We recognize that the Bridge Dinner and the people involved don’t represent all of Muncie,” Moore said, “but we hope we can continue to draw people from all over the city to celebrate with us.
“We want to continue reaching out to diversify the guests that come, but I really hope that the Bridge Dinner represents what people all across the city feel about Muncie and their neighborhoods. We want everyone to feel a sense of pride and a sense of excitement about all the opportunities that are available at their fingertips.”