Feeling all the holiday feels on Olney’s thriving 5th Street corridor

Eleven year-old Addison Sullivan came for the toys.

But by the time he left North 5th Street Revitalization Project’s Annual Winter Festival, the Olney elementary school student got something else, something a bit less tangible: pride in his neighborhood.

“It’s fun,” Sullivan said. “I can run around and stuff and play with my friends. We can’t mess it up or nothing, because no one would like us to mess up their neighborhood.”

Sullivan was one of more than a hundred children celebrating Olney last Saturday at the festival, held at the neighborhood’s Free Library branch. 

A line of families snaked all the way to the main entrance, ready for an afternoon of presents, carolling, and dancing.

It was a celebration by the community for the community.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were there, and plenty of local businesses and organizations giving away toys and sweets, painting faces and leading kids in games and activities. Kids munched on fresh empanadas from one of the neighborhood’s Colombian bakeries and sipped on hot chocolate loaded with mini marshmallows. The library’s community room was packed in spite of the rain outside. 

Iris Caple was there too. Lured by posts she saw on social media, she came with her two grandchildren.

“It’s good to get the kids out for a little while,’ she said. “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

In one of the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods, the Winter Fest is a rare opportunity for families to celebrate their community together, in public and for free.

Betzaida Dunn has made a point of coming to the Winter Festival every year since the birth of her son three years ago.  

“I think it’s awesome,” Dunn said. “The energy is great, the people are super nice, they’re organized and the kids love it.”

Robin Miranda is another fest fan. She said she loves the annual event and the entire community at Olney because of its diversity.

“It’s like a big melting pot,” she said. “All different cultures, all different races, ethnicities living together and getting along. There’s also so many different variety stores close by and around.”

That multicultural flavor breeds a creative energy that was on full display when Maty Gueye, 9, sang “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Let it Snow” with her sisters.

Some kids were too shy to sing, but more than happy to dance along.

“Seeing kids be happy makes me happy,”  Vanahi Diaz, 18, said.

Diaz has volunteered for North 5th Street for the past year. She worked at last year’s festival as well as the trick-or-treating event the organization does during Halloween season.

While Diaz volunteers in Olney, she lives in Kensington, where  there’s a lot of emphasis on helping people struggling with addiction, she said. Sometimes, she said, she wishes there were more lighthearted fun activities for her community.

In Olney, the host of the party, North 5th Street Revitalization Project, works year-round to promote businesses on the commercial corridor.

After five years of organizing in the area, the nonprofit has some fans.

Angie Arguto, 11, is one of them. North 5th Street is one her become one her favorite places to go.

Elias, 9,  is another fan. He has one simple message for anyone who visits that isn’t from Olney.

“This is a great neighborhood and I hope everyone likes it too,” he said.

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