Helicopter egg drop draws 12,000; creates chaos
Sunday, April 4, 2010
ROCHESTER – A helicopter drop of 60,000 Easter eggs Saturday at the Rochester Fair Grounds, an event sponsored by the Next Level Church, drew criticism as well as praise from the nearly 12,000 people who attended.
Complaints included instances of children being trampled and others walking away empty- handed amid massive rushes for eggs. Rochester Police filed a report cataloging cases of shoving and other incidents.
Church officials, however, still are hailing the event as a success and say any event of such magnitude is bound to have its share of problems.
A helicopter from the North Andover Helicopter Academy dropped the 60,000 eggs onto a field in a series of waves, and church volunteers helped spread them on the ground. Immediately after, children ages 3 to 12 were allowed to collect the eggs in three heats separated by ages.
Some eggs contained candy, while others contained vouchers for prizes such as flat-screen televisions, Nintendo Wii game systems and even cash.
Joshua Gagnon, lead pastor for the Next Level Church, which gathers on Sundays at the Regal Cinemas at the Fox Run Mall in Newington, said the number of people who showed up Saturday was far more than expected.
The free event was supposed to be at Oyster River High School, but was changed at the last minute. Initially, online registration estimates led organizers to believe they were going to have about 2,000 families showing up, but Gagnon said the move to the fairgrounds created an influx of nearly 7,000 unregistered people.
“It was way more than expected,” he said. “I think overall it went really well. With any large event you will always have some people who think you could’ve done it differently, but for the most part, we got really positive and thankful comments.”
Families gathered at the fairgrounds shortly after noon, where a live band performed and attendees found several children’s play zones. Some people in those areas also won prizes like those given away through the eggs.
During the egg drops, parents were asked to not accompany children as they ran onto the field during the hunt, which prompted some to lose track of their children for a period of time, though Gagnon said every child was back with their parents within 15 minutes.
“Everybody found their children,” he said. “That’s going to happen when you have that many children running toward eggs.”
Rochester Police Sgt. A.J. Bossi said the few missing children reported were found by their guardians and nobody was reported missing as of Saturday night.
He said two patrol officers were assigned for the event’s detail, but clearly were no match for the unexpected crowds. He called the event a “learning experience.”
Several “disturbances” were reported involving arguments and pushing. An incident report has been generated so police can keep a record, he said.
Colleen Saverese of Lebanon, Maine, criticized the event, calling it “horrible” and nothing more than a “publicity stunt” on the church’s part to try and get new members.
Describing the event as “poorly planned,” she said one of her children was punched and a parent pushed another child to the ground while trying to collect eggs for a child.
“They grabbed all the eggs and were just like vultures,” she said.
She said her daughter walked away with only three eggs and was reduced to tears.
She said she plans to hold an Easter egg hunt of her own today at her home.
Carol MacIntosh, of Raymond, said the event was fun, but not worth the hassle. She said the fact that she was separated from her son and couldn’t see him through the crowds of children bothered her the most.
“They wouldn’t let us on the field with the children, so at one point I had no idea where he was,” she said.
Despite the chaos, MacIntosh said she understood the event was all in good fun, but could’ve been better organized.
Duncan Brantwell, 9, came from Concord to check out the egg drop with his parents. He said he was overwhelmed by the rush that swarmed all the eggs within minutes, leaving him with little to collect.
But despite only walking away with a handful of eggs, he said he wasn’t concerned about it and was looking forward to Easter festivities with his family today the most.
While some claimed disappointment after Saturday’s egg drop, others spoke favorably about the event.
Nottingham resident Michelle Martel brought her daughter Emily, 4, and mother Sherri Welch of Raymond to the egg drop. Martel said she heard about the event on the radio and was blown away when she found out it was going to involve nearly 60,000 eggs.
She said she traditionally does Easter egg hunts for her grandchildren every year, and remembers doing them herself as a child.
“When they said they would be dropping 30,000 eggs we were impressed, but when we found out there were going to be more than that, we were blown away,” she said.
Gagnon, the church’s lead pastor, said the goal was to offer a free community event. As far as making it annual, he said he and the church staff will get together and assess the event’s successes and the failures and determine how best to proceed.
“We always want to get better at what we’re doing,” he said.