Calling All Communities To A Picnic In the Park

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The vegans came with wholesome eats. The knitters brought their needles. The Spanish Language group wore “Hola. Me llamo ___” name tags.

They were in Prospect Park’s central Nethermead section on Saturday as part of the Mega Meetup, a celebration of the fifth birthday of, a Greenwich Village-based company that facilitates people connecting online based on common interests – and them meeting in person. Meetup organizers and members said the groups led them to enlarge their social circles as well as help others.

“The best part is that everyone has stepped from behind their computer,” said Margo Daley of Far Rockaway, “alive in living color.”

There are more than 1,500 Meetup groups in New York City. According to a three-foot map where Meetup organizers charted groups’ locations for the day, 40 groups were represented in the flesh, with an estimated 1,000 people wandering by throughout the afternoon.

Daley, 49, was on the north side of the Nethermead with the Uptown Crochet Corner. She discovered the group last year while searching for needlework groups online. Since then she has been making a pilgrimage to Harlem every Saturday to crochet with and learn from 30 women whom the group’s founder, Cherise Grant, assembles at her son’s school, the Harlem Children’s Zone. What makes Daley trek through three boroughs each week? “A good group of ladies,” she said. “That knowledge costs. We’re getting it for free.”

The group gives back too. They are crocheting booties and bonnets for premature babies. They have also made scarves for the Orphans Foundation of American’s Red Scarf Project, which sends Valentine’s Day care packages to foster youth studying at colleges and trade schools.

“It’s all up to the Meetup organizers,” said co-founder Scott Heiferman. “If people haven’t organized it, then people don’t want it.” Saturday’s gathering, the first-ever powwow organized by headquarters, still left a lot to individual Meetup organizers. The day’s live music was arranged by — who else? — the Musicians Meetup. Heiferman thought one band was too loud, but kept his distance, happy to discover the New York Meditation Meetup, whose members were sitting cross-legged in the grass. The Small Dog Meetup asked him to join them for a photo. His company’s 47-member staff wore red t-shirts with the signature “Hello. My name is Meetup” sticker design screened on the front. They handed out two-foot wide balloons to organizers, distributed complimentary bottles of water and helped people locate Meetups that dotted the meadow.

In quintessential Meetup spirit, group leaders also played a key role. “I’m here to welcome people who are new in town,” said David Greene, a web developer and network administrator who is the organizer of 14 groups, the assistant organizer of eight others and a member of 100 in all. Which one is closest to his heart? Greene said the 168-member Peace in the Middle East Meetup is doing something important for the world through book discussions, film screenings and educational activities.

The organizer of the 3,000-member Spanish Language Meetup, Nestor Masckauchan, said his group “makes a lot of lives less lonely,” including his own. He recently partnered with Easy Español, a Spanish-language school that will give the Meetup a kickback for a certain number of student referrals. Masckauchan declined to share the details of the agreement but said his group had decided to donate all proceeds to support children in need in Latin America and New York City.

Alan Ando, a member of the Hiking Meetup and a manager at Eastern Mountain Sports, was at the Mega Meetup to build community, promote his Soho store and ultimately, make the city a friendlier place. “I think it’s about getting people in all these tribal units,” he said. “Then we’ll resolve our differences. It just happens naturally.”

Daley, the Far Rockaway florist who crochets in Harlem, was happy to hobnob with snowboarders, Star Trek fans and small dog lovers.

“This is New York,” she said. “It’s all too normal.”

– Laura Silver