The parking lot looked very much like a box of toy cars all blown up.
Police cars, fire department vehicles, an ambulance, a school bus, a sanitation truck and the must-have ice cream truck all filled the Riverdale Temple lot, all part of Riverdale Nursery School’s annual Truck Day.
“The kids look forward to this every year,” said preschool teacher Robin Meyiri. “They learn that their life is about giving to others and the pieces of what it is to build a community.”
Each truck had something to offer, from blown-up surgical gloves from Riverdale Hatzalah’s emergency medical technicians to SpongeBob SquarePants icy treats with gumdrop eyeballs from Mister Softee.
“We’re just here to show them that we’ll keep them safe and protected because that’s all kids really want,” said Pablo Quinde, an EMT with Hatzalah. “Whenever they see us, I want them to know we’re here to help.”
Sanitation department employees hoisted kids into the front seat of their garbage truck, letting them turn the wheel — with the ignition off, of course. In the back of the vehicle, a mother bribed her young one with ice cream if he stood still just long enough for her to snap a photo of him in front of the giant truck tire, which was enormous compared to him.
A few yards away, policemen did the same, letting kids slip into the driver’s seat of their patrol cars, but with the added feature of letting them turn on the siren with the help of Officer John Labianca.
“We want them to know cops aren’t bad and that they can come to us if they need help,” Labianca said as he stood next to his parked SUV. Given the fact the children ranged from 2 to 4, there wasn’t much Labianca could actually tell the tots, with most of the “explaining” happening through smiles and playing with the siren and horn.
“These guys are superheroes,” Meyiri said.
“They idolize firemen, policemen, Thomas the Train, and here they get to experience these people who live to help others, and who build their community. And that is what’s super important.”
It took an impressive eight minutes to round up all the children at the Independence Avenue parking lot for the main attraction — Mister Softee. Suddenly, all the other trucks were deserted, and the ice cream man didn’t even have to play his music box.
Using a picture menu as a guide, ice cream man Jeffrey Perez dished out treats featuring Spider-Man and that spongy guy who lives in a pineapple, as well as vanilla ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles, and fudge-dipped swirls.
“It was a rush,” Perez said, with a smile. “It’s a nice event for the kids, and that’s the motivation.”
The kids weren’t the only ones attracted by the sweets. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz made it just in time for ice cream, walking away with a scoop of vanilla in a cup complete with rainbow sprinkles.
Much like for the nursery school toddlers, Truck Day is an annual event for the lawmaker.
“And it’s not because of Mister Softee,” Dinowitz said. “They get to learn about different trucks and jobs. And even though they’re not thinking about their careers yet, it’s a perfect day for them.”
Meyiri sees first hand what the children grasp from the lesson on community helpers. One child told her he’d call 911 if “a bed fell on my mommy.”
Truck Day not only illustrated the importance of municipal jobs within the community, but the ancient Nigerian proverb that it truly takes a “whole village to raise a child.”
In Meyiri’s experience she saw a very similar maxim. “It takes a community to raise a family.”