The faint scent of hickory gently wafted through the air as a gentle breeze from Lake Erie spread the aroma throughout the city. Sounds of conversation loud and gentle could be heard on almost every street as people circle around fire pits for a night of drinks and conversation.
While these groups varied in size and in some cases consisted of total strangers, it didn’t matter. A welcoming smile and sometimes even a drink and something to eat would be given out regardless of who stepped toward the fire pit.
This was the purpose of the city’s inaugural Bay Blaze, an event conceived a week earlier to encourage Bay Village residents to connect with their neighbors through fire pits in their front yard.
““Bay Village is the definition of a hometown community,” said Kira Wynocker, who organized the event over Facebook. “We’re kind of like the show ‘Cheers,’ everyone has the potential to know your name. It really should be the sense of community that sets us apart.”
It started on Sept. 21 when Melissa Oleff, who grew up in Bay Village and recently moved back with her three children, received an anonymous letter chiding her for leaving her firepit in her front yard. After sitting on the note for two days, she posted a picture of it with a message to the anonymous author.
“I had a long few years, I’m just sick of uncompassionate unkind people,” said Oleff, who recently went through a divorce. “Everyone goes through things that you don’t know about and I was fed up.”
In response Wynocker, who wanted to show Oleff that the city was a warm welcoming community, created the unofficial city event and posted it on Facebook. The event quickly spread like wildfire with a logo and stickers created and passed around town.
“Bay Village is an amazing community,” Wynocker said on Facebook. “I was really just hoping to promote positivity and the importance of being nice and neighborly.”
The city has no law that prohibits a fire in the front yard as long as it is in an approved container like a fire pit, Fire Chief Chris Lyons said.
Community response to both posts reached more than 1,000 interactions and continues to grow as more and more people post photos and show support for Oleff on Facebook. An event page was created, with 200 people showing interest and even more posting pictures of their front-yard fire pits.
“I think this event is lovely,” said Cheryl Duffield, a 35-year resident of Bay Village, while sitting at her fire. “It was unfortunate that someone felt the need to go and give her a letter like that. It’s nice to come out and support our Bay Village friends.”
Oleff participated in the event as well, However, instead of just having a fire pit in her front yard, she wanted to do something more. She created a pumpkin patch. Passersby could donate any amount of money and take a pumpkin.
Donations went to Sid’s Play, Learn, and Grow Space, an organization working to dedicate a space in Bay Village’s new library to Sidney Heidrick, who was diagnosed with Autism and later passed away at age 4. She made over $1,300.
Oleff said she was surprised that her post received so much support.
“It felt like the hometown I appreciated growing up,” she said. “It just goes to show that there’s many more people than there is bad in this world. It makes me feel cared for.”
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