It was no ordinary night in Mountain View: On the wide green lawn behind the neighborhood community center, kids flocked to an inflatable obstacle course, a bucking salmon ride and a portable petting zoo. Vendor booths with games and giveaways filled the parking lot behind New Hope Baptist Church. Cars lined the surrounding streets. Grills sizzled. Music played from a pavilion nearby.
Part of the nationwide National Night Out program, the Tuesday evening block party drew a crowd, from barefoot kids to big neighborhood families to politicians, firefighters and police officers handing out stickers.
In the middle of it all, Gwen Alexander served cotton candy to a seemingly endless line of people. Wisps of blue cotton candy clung to her sweatshirt as she worked. Clumps of cotton candy stuck to her hands. A fine film of cotton candy covered her braids. And everywhere you looked, kids with sugar-coated smiles clutched pieces of melting cotton candy with sticky, colorful fingers.
Alexander has come here for years, renting the machine and buying the sugar mix and volunteering her time to give away sweets for free. Her own four children are now adults. She refuses to grow old watching soap operas on the couch. So she stays busy doing things for other people.
She’s volunteered at Kids’ Kitchen, at Fairview Elementary School and at the Muldoon Boys and Girls Club. She helps with fundraisers for various church and nonprofit groups; she looks forward to volunteering at the multicultural center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
For the Mountain View block party, she chooses to serve cotton candy. It’s sweet and special, she says. It’s something you don’t normally get around here — usually just at the state fair in Palmer, where they’ll charge you “an arm and a leg” for simple spun sugar.
Of all the events in the year, Alexander says, the Mountain View block party is her favorite. Looking around, she sees unity. She likes to see the firefighters, too.
“This is the one time of year I get to enjoy myself,” she said, smiling.
Then she turned to serve another cone of cotton candy, never missing a beat.