NEWPORT, Ky. — Hundreds of families turned out for an evening of fun and helping local kids getting ready for school. 

Newport Night Out featured everything from a petting zoo to karate exhibitions, along with free food and chances to win bicycles and other prizes.

Captain Paul Kunkel, who organized the event, has been a part of the National Night Out festivities in Newport since joining the police force in 2000. 

“Back then, my captain told me to go out and get 50 hot dogs,” Kunkel said. “Tonight, we had 1,000 hot dogs and burgers and pizzas.”

Over the years, Kunkel has developed relationships with businesses and private donors who have given tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise to Newport’s families. This year, he worked with everyone from The Hampton Inn and Suites in Newport to Sick Fish Cycles in Burlington.

Between them and a private donor, Kunkel could raffle off about 70 bicycles. Each winner also received a helmet and bike lock.

Kunkel and his volunteers also made sure no child left empty-handed. They gave out 800 school bags filled with supplies and 800 coloring books created by the department, Kunkel said.

Families could also choose a free book courtesy of the Newport branch of the Campbell County Public Library. Kids also got a free haircut courtesy of Sport Clips.    

Kunkel also recruited X-Games champion BMX rider Zach Newman and his “Ramp Up Stunt Show” to perform. Kunkel even became part of the act, sitting at the top of the ramp and letting the riders soar over the top of him doing tricks.

“Wow, that was exhilarating!” Kunkel said. There was a method to the madness.

“When I was a young kid, my dad took me to see Evel Knievel, and he walked up to the top of the ramp and said, ‘Drugs are bad.’ Well, that worked for me,” Kunkel said.

“This whole event is about creating a memory that works with kids. They see everybody doing something good. They see everybody getting along. Doing the right thing. Moving forward. Being good neighbors and that memory will stick in their head and when they get older, they’ll remember that the cops weren’t so bad after all.”

Kunkel said he won’t soon forget what he called the “grand chaos,” and he’s confident most of the kids won’t either.

“It only takes one kid to make a good decision because of something they saw here,” Kunkel said. “Then all of the months of planning and stress are all worth it.”

Similar events took place in other cities around Kentucky and about 16-thousand communities across the country. National Night Out began back in 1984.