LINDEN, N.J. — There is a car show, pie- and spaghetti-eating contests, bands and vendor tents, but
what seems to get the most attention at Linden’s annual “September to Remember” street fair is the dunk tank run by the Linden Fire Department.
“I’ve been getting in that dunk tank for eight years,” Councilman John Francis Roman said as he worked the beer tent Sept. 28. “And I have been running the food contest now for eight years. I didn’t want to give this up,” he added, referring to the beer tent.
“You’re supposed to give it up once you’re a councilman. You’re supposed to not do cultural heritage things anymore. I still do because it’s for the people, it’s for everyone that walks into these doors. This is the one day a year when there are no political sides. You don’t see the normal fighting that you see at a council meeting. It’s almost like everyone puts up the white flag for the day and comes together. I wish it could be like that every day.”
The dunk tank is one of the most popular features of the event. Proceeds go to Spectrum All Stars, a parent-run organization focused on helping children and adults with special needs, with a focus on supporting those with autism.
Lori Gonzalez, the founder of Spectrum All Stars, began the organization because she found that there were no programs in the area for children with autism. She started the group with one other person, and now there is a board that includes seven mothers. The city recently gave the organization its own recreation center.
“We wanted social skills,” she said referring to the children. “We wanted the parents’ support because, as parents, it’s very difficult for us. We feel isolated, especially as we’re getting older. The kids — they’re shunned. And so, our social circle gets smaller. Our long-term friendships ended. A lot of their relationships with their family members have drifted because of the different needs that the kids have. We can design the program based on the needs of everybody, from 4 up until 50.”
In addition to the crowds and lines at the food vendor tents and trucks, the popularity of “September to Remember,” can be seen in the street littered with napkins and cups as the sun set and the hour approached the 9 p.m. closing time as the bands still echoed from the amphitheater into the evening.
The Cultural Heritage Committee, headed by Amy Mathas, organized the event.
According to Mayor Derek Armstead, the committee has also expanded to organize “a Haitian Flag Raising Day. We raise the flag of almost every nation to celebrate their independence because the town has grown so diverse. We celebrate every culture in this town. Linden is the ninth most diverse town in the state and we recognize that and we feel that when everybody feels like they’re a part of the town. It makes for a better town.”
But it’s the street fair that has really grown.
Over the years, the festival has gradually taken over more streets and space, due not only to the attendance of new residents, but former residents who return for the event and additional food vendors who crowd in, according to Nora Mislin, a former member of the Cultural Heritage Committee.
“There are people who have moved out of Linden who come back every year just for this festival,” she said.
Among the food vendors are Smoke n’ Roll, a food truck owned and operated by Jeff Samet and his wife Miriam. He also is a video editor, and one of his clients was the Food Network for many years. He opened the Smoke n’ Roll food truck in April, and mainly travels to Englishtown. He said Linden’s event gives his business more exposure.
June’s Jerk Chicken, which serves authentic Jamaican cuisine, is owned and operated by Natasha White and her mother Magretta Morgan. Their food uses Caribbean spices and White said her mother makes her own jerk sauce from scratch.
“She has been cooking forever,” White said of her mother. “She comes from a big family where everyone cooks for everyone else.”