Hundreds of kids and adults converged on Beach 99th Street and Shorefront Parkway in Rockaway Beach on a glorious Saturday afternoon for a bit of emotional relief. The Rockaway Kids Carnival featured aerial performers, face painting, jewelry making, puppet shows, two bouncy castles, free toys and games. Cupcakes, cookies, hamburgers and hot dogs were plentiful, as were costumes: every kid got their pick. To some it looked like Burning Man in the Rockaways, with elaborately costumed entertainers on stilts using the beach as a backdrop.
"Lots of people are caring for the immediate needs of the people in the Rockaways," the carnival's organizer, Mark Winkel said. "But no one is really caring for their emotional needs—especially the children." After consistently volunteering in the Rockaways for several weeks, Winkel, an event producer who lives in DUMBO, put together the carnival in a mere five days after noticing that many of the children looked as if they could use some cheering up.
But some were opposed to the idea of throwing a carnival at a time when so many in the area are struggling to piece their lives back together after Hurricane Sandy. "We had marching bands going around to promote it, and the initial response from the parents was anger," Winkel said. "Then they saw the kids lighting up, getting all excited, and then even the parents realized how huge it could be to just give their kids a break."
Many of the volunteer performers are involved in the New York Burning Man community, Winkel says. Other support was provided by organizations like Kostume Kult, which donated several hundred children's costumes. More carnivals are being planned in different boroughs for storm-affected children across the city, but Winkel says he'll need support. "I'm looking for donations, volunteers, and hopefully even some kind of corporate sponsorship. People were tentative to support us in the beginning but we've gotten calls from the Mayor's Office, from a bunch of churches who said they want to host us."
Saturday's carnival was sparsely attended at 1 p.m. but packed by 2:30 ("We had 200 custom t-shirts printed out for the kids and we handed them all out," Winkel says). Photographer Tod Seelie adds that he was taken by how "ridiculously feel-good" the carnival was, and noted that he overheard two NYPD officers discussing it. "It's nice for people to have a distraction," the first officer said, while another added, "Yeah. It's a really nice day."