Bugs Bunny himself was on the sidewalk March 7 greeting families lined up out the door to attend the 45th Annual Bugs Bunny Club, held at the Historic Augusta Theatre and hosted by the Augusta Department of Public Safety.
Starting at 10 a.m. until noon, families paid a quarter per person to see the movie "Happy Feet," along with breaks to move around and dance a bit, go onstage to win toy prizes, and listen to Officer Mat Meckel talk about police safety. The event will be every Saturday in March and includes a kids' movie, prizes, and each week has a different theme. The first week is police week, followed by pajama day on March 14, fire safety on March 21, and finally team spirit on March 28, when families are encouraged to wear gear for their favorite sports teams. Next week 80 free stuffed animals will be given away donated by the community, and four brand new bicycles donated by American State Bank and Wal-Mart on March 28.
"We're gonna talk about stranger danger, being home alone, and awareness," Meckel said. Though he's been an officer 20 years, it's his first year as School Resource Officer, which involves giving community presentations like this and providing safety training to kids.
"I'm also here to show the kids that police are approachable and trustworthy."
According to Stephanie Cole, volunteer for the Historic Augusta Theatre and Augusta Arts Council board member, fire men will come into the theatre aisles March 21 and turn the lights down, with all their gear on. "The kids will learn not to hide from officers," in the event of a fire, Cole said.
Augusta Police Chief Robert Sage said "This is a great positive interaction with the community," and junior firefighters volunteer as characters to interact with kids. In addition to Bugs Bunny, McGruff the Crime Dog was there, along with a bear and a lion.
"Been going on a long time," Sage said. "Can't wait to celebrate 50!" And he's a living example of the impact this event has had on generations now. He first attended as a kid himself, then a junior firefighter playing a character, and now as a police officer. "In the '80s," he remembers, "E.T. was a character! That costume was hot."
"We've been coming to this for 15 years," Jill Keazer of Augusta said, who brought two of her grandchildren; Cora, 3, and Scarlett, one-years-old. "It's loud and we tell the kids to yell and have fun!"
Four-year-old Bentley Allen was most enjoying "the dancing," and said he likes police officers "Because they can arrest people and put them in jail!" Bentley was accompanied by his mother, Augusta resident Jessie Allen, who fondly remembers attending herself the year she was eight-years-old. This year is Bentley's first time attending.
Augusta Arts Council President Connie Thurman reports an estimated 200 kids attended, 300 total including adults.