Cortland Police Department hosting community picnic

Cortland Police Officer Jesse Abbott at his downtown office, Dec. 19, 2018 (Sarah Bullock/Staff Photo)

A seemingly racist complaint against a small boy sparked the city police and local volunteers to bring residents to the table—for soup.

The Cortland Police Department’s Office of Community Policing is coordinating a community picnic starting at 6 p.m. Sunday evening on Court Street for all residents to indulge in free soups from local restaurants, a movie in the park and time together at a table set to stretch the length of the street.

The point of the picnic is for city residents from all backgrounds to meet as strangers but leave the table as friends, said Officer Jesse Abbott, the city officer in charge of community policing.

An unnecessary complaint against a three- or four-year-old boy whose mother is from Barbados was the catalyst for the picnic that aims to connect Cortland’s diverse populations, Abbott said.

The call to police last Fall, claiming that the small, biracial boy was “disruptive”, was needless, Abbott said at the volunteer’s committee meeting Thursday.

“There’s no reason the police should have been called,” he said, adding the complainant had left the area when officers arrived. “We figured, we got to do something.”

Abbott and Lt. David Guerrera meet with the mother at Bru 64 and discussed how the city could address diversity issues as a community. At first the idea of a parade was tossed around, and then a picnic at a city park.

But the city parks are so big, the different groups would be able to simply sit with each other instead of mingling together if a picnic was held at one of them, Abbott said.

Then Abbott’s sister, Kelley Locke, laid down a gauntlet that solved his problem: she dared Abbott to organize a city picnic at one long table like one she saw described on Facebook that was attended by 250 in January in West Virginia.

“I said, ‘I challenge you to do something like this for our community,’” Locke said at Thursday’s meeting.

Rising to the challenge, Abbott aimed to hold one in June and have 400 attend.

Gathering volunteers across the city’s different groups, from churches to the LGBTQ community, and relying on a dedicated, core committee, Abbott is almost ready to see the community table laid.

“If you get ideas from everybody, you get something everybody would enjoy,” said Nichole Zarcone, a committee volunteer.

Restaurants across the city, including M&D Deli, Brix and Hairy Tony’s, are donating 100 gallons of soup, while Summit Federal Credit Union is sponsoring the free showing of How to Train Your Dragon 3 in Courthouse Park. The Cortland Free Library is set to read Stone Soup by Marcia Brown and hand out 100 free copies of the myth of a town that learns to share over a pot of soup.

Events like the Stone Soup Community Picnic help to build bonds in Cortland’s already a vibrant community, Abbott and the committee said.

“It’s so easy to talk negative and it spreads so much faster,” Zarcone said, but the Cortland community has a lot of good things going in it, too. “This is just another good thing.”

To join as a volunteer, contact Jesse Abbott at (607) 423-0536.