Aron Bryce hopes to help mitigate an increasingly divisive climate by bringing people together; he also wants to showcase an oft-overlooked area of St. Petersburg.
Bryce, 27, believes his upcoming West St. Pete CommUNITY Picnic can accomplish both goals. Hundreds of residents and dozens of organizations have bought into the idea.
The Sept. 23 community picnic will bring a slew of food and beverage vendors, demonstrations, art, a DJ, games and activities for all ages to Azalea Park. While highlighting the area where he was born and raised is a key aspect, Bryce said the real reason he organized the event is to foster togetherness.
“That’s why I capitalized the word ‘unity’ within community picnic,” Bryce explained. “That is the focus of this event. I think, especially given the divisiveness of the past several years, it’s important to find creative ways to bring people together, sit them down and share a meal.”
Bryce’s age belies his civic-mindedness. The Leadership St. Pete alum is the statewide coordinator for the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions and serves on multiple boards and committees.
Those include Tampa Bay Watch’s leadership council, the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), the Green Thumb Festival and the Crossroads Area Neighborhood Association, where he serves as president. Bryce’s community connections paid dividends when planning the event.
“When I became vice president of CONA, it became a goal of mine to find ways to promote the west side, engage the west side,” he said.
Bryce established CONA’s District 1 Affairs Committee. He chairs a group that includes association presidents from the area’s Eagle Crest, Jungle Prada and Holiday Park neighborhoods.
“Now that I had a body, we began the conversation of what that could look like,” Bryce added. “This had a snowball effect, and we ended up growing the idea and expanding it further beyond a simple picnic.”
Ronnica Whaley, owner of Shiso Crispy, was the first truck vendor to commit. She is also a west side resident and will soon open her first brick-and-mortar restaurant in the area.
Duke of Ribs, which Bryce called a “great Black-owned business that has some of the best barbecue in St. Pete,” will help feed the masses. Uncle Louie G will offer Italian ice and ice cream, and Bryce said The Slammer Shop would provide hamburgers and hot dogs.
“And then, as far as entertainment and activities are concerned, I just started thinking about different things we would be able to do within a budget,” Bryce said. “The picnic is being funded through the neighborhoods who are partnering to put it on – Crossroads area, Eagle Crest, Jungle Prada and Holiday Park.”
The St. Petersburg Police Department will provide a “high energy” K-9 demonstration. They will also showcase SWAT and motorcycle units.
The free event will also feature a birds of prey exhibition. Practically Pikasso will provide an art station for kids.
Bryce hired a professional photographer, and the community picnic will feature a photo booth. It will also offer several yard games.
Azalea Middle School will showcase its drone program. Multiple organizations will collect nonperishable food and hygiene product donations.
Bryce rented tables and chairs and said the event would offer plenty of seating. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will keep a bus parked and running onsite to provide a place to cool off.
Bryce noted that organizations like the SPPD and St. Pete Fire Rescue often grant community requests. “But for this particular event, I think they were receptive to it because … a lot of stuff doesn’t necessarily happen like this on the west side,” he added.
“You could even say, arguably, across the whole city,” Bryce said. “This type of community event really is unique – in that it is by and for the community. So, I think they see the value in organizing something like that.”
While downtown has “exploded,” Bryce said people have overlooked West St. Pete. He believes that momentum is starting to shift westward.
Bryce said people who live downtown, in South St. Pete and outside city limits have shown interest in the event. He said the west side is no longer the area’s best-kept secret.
“My hope for this is that it presents people the opportunity to come together, connect with their neighbors, maybe develop friendships from it and walk away more in touch with their neighborhood and community,” Bryce said. “Which is so important in today’s age.”
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