About 200 people gathered Tuesday in Longview to show the strength of unity as they prepared for National Night Out block parties that will take place nationwide Oct. 1.

“Gregg County can move from 123,000 individuals to one community,” Sheriff Maxey Cerliano told potential block party hosts and guests at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

Typically a city event, in which neighbors invite their neighborhood for an evening of fellowship and to just get to know each other, National Night Out 2019 will stretch into unincorporated areas. The sheriff said one top party in the northern and southern parts of Gregg County will earn National Night Out Neighborhood designations to let criminals know remote doesn’t mean vulnerable.

“Millions — do you hear that? — millions of neighbors participate in National Night Out,” Holly Fuller, executive director of co-sponsor Partners in Prevention, told the audience as they finished complimentary hot dogs and hamburgers. “We’re hoping that you are considering throwing a party.”

Longview Mayor Andy Mack walked into the ballroom about 10 minutes before the speeches began, clapped his hands together and shared a hug with restaurateur Rodolfo Stefano, who had picked up a yard sign and paraphernalia for a party.

The mayor looked over the crowd.

“Anytime you’re all rowing in the same direction, the boat travels a lot faster,” Mack said, later telling the audience, “This is so important and so significant, because you come because you care about this community. It makes it so much better to live in this town.”

Kevin Hawkins, another restaurant owner and a past speaker at the night out planning meeting, also secured his yard sign and party gear.

“I feel like this is a big deal, to strengthen the community and kill some of those stereotypes regarding South Longview,” Hawkins said, breaking from a chat with police Officer Laderian Brown.

Vendors, from retailers to local nonprofit groups such as the East Texas chapter of the American Red Cross, were on hand Tuesday as event sponsors and to share their niche in the goal of a safer community.

Citizens On Patrol Board President Mary Sandars said the 29th local version of National Night Out could be the biggest yet. COPS has about 40 members who patrol city neighborhoods at least three hours a month.

“The last time I heard, (National Night Out signups) were increasing, so it looks like a good turnout this year,” Sandars said. “You get to know your neighbors and make the city safer.”

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt summed up the practical nature of the annual block parties and the mingling that comes with them.

“It’s a great chance to bring together neighborhoods and the law enforcement that protects them,” the judge said. “Everybody just chips in. It’s all about folks coming together and making their neighborhoods safer. Get out in your streets and yards on Oct. 1.”