Staff Writer—Emi Stewart
EMI STEWART, HOST: The crunchy leaves, brisk wind, and distinct aroma of Bunsen Brew pumpkin muffins can only mean one thing: Fall is upon us. As such, kids all across the country aged 2 to 22 are planning their Halloween costumes, dressing up as —
PAUL : Captain America.
ADDIE : A unicorn.
EVAN : Spiderman.
HALEY : Tinkerbell.
HOLLIS : Elsa.
REESE : A bear.
CAROLYN SHONKWILER : Uh, I think Simba… I got it from Walmart ten minutes ago.
STEWART: But, for small town Northwest Iowa, more and more alternatives to the traditional trick-or-treat outing are cropping up.
JOEL DEBOER : The Hallelujah Party was birthed out of this sense of a real desire to reach in and, and just connect a lot of people.
STEWART: That’s Joel DeBoer, who’s been pastoring Bridge of Hope Ministries in Sioux Center for the past two years. Part of the ministry’s outreach is the Hallelujah Party — an annual autumnal event held in Dordt University’s Rec Center that brings families together to play games, win prizes, and share a meal.
DEBOER : We get such a good community buy in… just a great outpouring we couldn’t do it. If it wasn’t really that kind of a community impact. So it’s huge.
STEWART: Both individual members and businesses within the Sioux Center and surrounding communities pitch in to help put the event together. American State Bank, HyVee, and Casey’s Bakery are some of the contributors. Kari Sandouka — Associate Professor of Computer Science at Dordt and one of the primary organizers of the Hallelujah Party — sees it as a communal effort.
KARI SANDOUKA : The hot dog buns always come from Casey’s Bakery. You know. And so when you think about asking for, you know, 1000 hot dog buns, it kind of blows your mind a little bit like that. They’re just willing to do that.
STEWART: The community support doesn’t just come in the form of donations and volunteering, but also in attendance. On the evening of October 31st, over 1300 people arrive on campus and make a beeline for the Rec Center. Just across the green, in the lobby of the Kuyper Apartment Complex, Art Senior Seminar students are putting on their own event to complement the Hallelujah Party, called “Arts and Treats.” Graphic design major Ella Rynders stands by a large blank canvas on the ground, filling small plastic cups with neon pink, green, and blue paint.
ELLA RYNDERS : A bunch of us dress up as different artists from the past and are showing anyone who comes, so kids or college students, how to do the piece of art that our artists did. I am dressed up as Helen Frankenthaler who was a painter in the 60s and 70s. She did abstract expressionism and filled up cups full of paints, and just put canvas on the ground and poured the paint on it and so we’re letting kids do that tonight.
STEWART: The kids’ eyes light up when Rynders tells them they are allowed to throw the paint on the ground. Other activity stations include printmaking, pottery, pop art, cartoon drawing, and an ode to contemporary artist Jeff Koons — balloon animals. Emily Wicker, a graphic design major, fashions a yellow weiner dog for me .
WICKER : There you go.
STEWART: So, what is it about events like these that draws people in? Sure, they’re packed with fun. Where else are you encouraged to throw paint? There’s no doubt about the entertainment quality. But, there’s something that runs more deeply through these events.
SANDOUKA : I don’t think there’s another time where this many people get together in one place.
RACHEL VERWOLF : I think it brings people together.
JOHN WYNSTRA : It’s an opportunity to bring the community together.
ERIKA POST : It’s just nice to get the community together.
WICKER : I think that it’s a way to get the community to the Dordt campus.
STEWART: Community. Togetherness. These words are so frequently used to describe Dordt and Sioux Center, that it can be easy to get tired of them, or take them for granted. But these events serve as a tangible reminder of the meaning behind the words.
DEBOER : How do we foster authenticity? How do we just be real with each other? And we find that that comes best when we can have fun when we can eat some food when we can just laugh and do different things.
STEWART: Halloween could just be a time to dress up, knock on doors, and eat too many peanut butter cups. It could be a one-day-a-year deal that we forget about once the candy supply has run dry. But — for Sioux Center, Iowa — these events represent an atmosphere found here that is year-round; one of interpersonal connection, community development, and family friendly fun. For the Dordt Diamond, this is Emi Stewart.