By Steven Piper
At the 36th Annual Neighborhoods, USA (NUSA) Conference, held May 25–28 in Anchorage, Alaska, Better Balance for Long Beach’s project– The One Day Christmas Store Shopping with Dignity– earned The Neighborhood of the Year Grand Prize. Also, placing second in the Multi-Neighborhood Partnership category was Central Neighborhood Advisory Committee’s (CNAC) and South Wrigley Neighborhood Advisory Group’s (NAG) project– the Peace Garden at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
According to NUSA’s website, “Each year the NUSA Board of Directors recognizes the commitment and work of neighborhoods in awarding the ‘Neighborhood of the Year’ recipients. The ‘Neighborhood of the Year’ award has been presented since 1984 as a collective ‘thank you’ for the hard work by neighborhoods…”
The award-winning one-day Christmas store provides a free opportunity for struggling families to put a few gifts under their tree. Last year, the privately funded department store-style gift giveaway event invited 550 families, and more than 150 volunteers participated.
Better Balance for Long Beach members Jack Smith and Dan Pressburg attended the conference in Anchorage, bringing the award home on May 28. “Better Balance for Long Beach and The One Day Christmas Store– Shopping with Dignity was one of four finalists in our category,” Pressburg said. “There were three other categories. Jack and I, combined with a little promotion, won our category in the Multi Neighborhood Partnerships category. Then, we were pitted against the other first-place finishers in the other categories for the national title. We also won the national title. This event challenges our leadership ability due to the many tasks the day of the event. This was a win for both cities, but mostly for the families we service that one day in December.”
Donations to the Christmas store can be made by sending checks payable to “LBRM/BBLB,” to LBRM/BBLB, P.O. Box 4564, Long Beach, CA 90804.
Winning second place in the Multi-Neighborhood Partnership category, the Peace Garden at Martin Luther King Jr. Park was funded by grants that were applied for by both NAG and CNAC.
“It’s absolutely incredible. The garden is open every day from 8am to 5pm,” said NAG Co-chair Annie Greenfeld. “Adults worked with the youth to build the garden. It wasn’t just a bunch of professionals. We had 10 youth, and they participated like you would not believe. They built it from the ground up.” Greenfeld was one of three representatives that received the award at the conference in Anchorage.
Compared to other local community gardens, the Peace Garden is somewhat different. Planters do not have to pay a fee to harvest their crops. The only prerequisite is that gardeners sign a contract, indicating that they are responsible for the upkeep of their plot of land.
Located at approximately 1903 Cherry Ave., the garden is 40 feet by 80 feet, with additional space for an entryway.
According to Greenfeld, the garden’s most recent winter harvest on May 16 fed 60 families. “We are now in the process of planting our summer vegetables,” Greenfeld said. “I’m thinking somewhere around Labor Day we will have our second harvest.”
Even though two of the award recipients were from Long Beach, the four-day conference also included competitors from all over the United States, Canada, Japan and the Philippines. In addition to the awards ceremony, the event offered workshops, tours, and networking opportunities for community builders.
Neighborhoods, USA is a national nonprofit organization. The Neighborhood of the Year award has been presented since 1984.