The smell of burgers and grilled chicken mingled with the sounds of both adults and children talking and laughing at the Westchester Community Center June 24.
River's Edge Community Church — which meets at the community center— was hosting the first of what was supposed to be a three-part series of free, community picnics at the center.
The first, scheduled for June 18, was canceled due to severe thunderstorms and the last happened July 2.
Pastor Dane Lewis and his wife Jo Lewis, both Catonsville residents, have been hosting the picnics every summer since their church began in the fall of 2003.
"We were just sitting around here with a couple of our leadership (members of the church) and said 'Wow, we should really make use of this feature," Jo Lewis said of the fields and playground adjacent to the building. "It's worked very well."
"A lot of churches want the community to do things for them," Dane Lewis said, "We wanted to do something to give."
He said a short prayer at the beginning of the meal, but otherwise the event has no religious connections. He said about 60 percent of attendees — of which there were over 100 — have no affiliation with River's Edge.
They said the picnic is built into the church's annual budget so that attendees do not have to pay for or bring any food or drinks.
"We definitely have people who come every year," Jo Lewis said. "It's just really cool to know we have that relationship with them."
Betsy Mitchell, her husband Don Mitchell and their daughter Christina Unglesbee, their son-in-law Adam Unglesbee and their 5-year-old grandson Josh Unglesbee were all in attendance at the June 24 picnic.
"We've been here once at least for the past two years," said Betsy Mitchell, who said her son Donald Mitchell Jr. and daughter-in-law Robin Mitchell usually come to the picnic with their three daughters Abby, Hannah and Josie as well.
"It's a nice affair," she said. "You see some friends and we all get together and have a picnic."
Christina Unglesbee said the picnic is a great opportunity for her son Josh — who was munching on a hot dog and sipping on apple juice to cool down from a romp in the sandbox — to get outside.
"It's nice to get him out with the kids and spend time with the family," she said.
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