Local organizations, families and community members gathered in one space to enjoy a sunny, 70-degree afternoon full of celebratory community-focused activities, thanks to the SouthSide Arts District.
After COVID-19 paused in-person events and isolation impacted people’s physical and mental health, the SouthSide Arts District knew they wanted to create an event that would reunite and support community members.
With this idea in mind, the SouthSide Arts District and St. Luke’s University Health Network organized Spring on the SouthSide after a two-year hiatus.
Local vendors and businesses lined three blocks of the South Bethlehem Greenway on April 22. The theme of this year’s event was family health and wellness.
Katy Wirth, the assistant manager of the SouthSide Arts District, said Spring on the South Side used to be called Spring on Fourth and included the annual ChiliFest, a chili cookoff competition.
Wirth said when ChiliFest was moved to October due to the pandemic, the SouthSide Arts District wanted to reimagine Spring on the South Side and plan it on its own.
Wirth said the theme and vision of the event came from reflecting on the needs of the community post-pandemic.
“We thought this would be a good opportunity to refocus Spring on the South Side and make it a health and wellness event that could bring attention to not only physical health, but mental health and how that can positively impact families in our community,” Wirth said.
Local businesses and organizations — including the Yoga Loft, Color Me Mine, Lehigh University Art Galleries, Zoellner Arts Center and Lehigh Valley Girls Rock — facilitated various activities for attendees to participate in.
Wirth said the SouthSide Arts District is consistently trying to forge new community connections and chose these partners based on health- and wellness-related activities they could provide.
“All of our partners have the community’s best interests at heart and the South Bethlehem Greenway and the South Side in general is a place where (the) community can come together and enjoy the best parts of life,” Wirth said.
During the event, passersby came and went on their bikes or by foot. Kids and families stopped at the playground along the way or to lounge underneath the fully bloomed trees.
Yoga mats were spread out across the grassy areas of the Greenway, with various core fitness, yoga and meditation classes taught by Yoga Loft instructors.
Members of Lehigh Valley Girls Rock brought musical instruments and held songwriting sessions centered around different themes and song forms.
Lehigh University Art Galleries held a mandala making workshop using pine cones, branches, flowers and other natural materials.
Veronica Moore, creator of Brown Skin Plant Mama, attended the event, providing free plants and optional potting for attendees and answering questions about how to best care for the plants.
Moore, a Lehigh Valley resident since 2007, started Brown Skin Plant Mama during the pandemic in 2020 as a creative outlet to promote plant therapy. She said plants played a role in helping her through her grief over the loss of her sister.
She is also the co-owner of The Taste Smokers, a Chicago-style barbecue restaurant on East Third Street.
Moore said the event, which fell on Earth Day, was a way to collaborate with other local businesses and educate people about the environment and living a healthy lifestyle.
“It really fit my goal and mission — to make plants accessible to South Side residents,” Moore said. “I also absolutely love everything about the South Side. There’s a way for me to give back directly to the residents here.”
Cutters Bike Shop, also located on East Third Street, and the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation partnered to perform bike safety checks, which included checking breaks, adjusting seat heights and making sure attendees’ helmets fit correctly.
Karen Krasley, an ambassador for Cutters and a family friend of the owners John and Lisa Ronca, said the event served as a way for interacting with the local community and highlighted the importance of getting outside and being active.
“Since COVID, people are getting back to getting outside and doing some fitness, and it just brings together a community as a whole and you feel so much better,” Krasley said. “Your attitude is better, your health is better and you’re happier.”
Both Wirth and Erin Zebertavage, downtown manager of the South Side Arts District, were present throughout the event. They announced four winners of free tickets to this year’s ChiliFest.
Kim and Adam Pierganilli, South Side residents since 2018, were selected as the winners. Adam Pierganilli said they decided to attend Spring on the South Side to see the activities and enjoy the warm weather.
Kim Pierganilli said one of her favorite parts of the event was checking out the food options. Local eateries Zekraft- Curators of Taste, Wonder Kitchen and Couchpota.doh! were selling health-conscious lunch options.
“In this area, we haven’t necessarily had a lot of options for finding healthy food, so it is great to have those options available for people,” Kim Pierganilli said.
Wirth said the event would not have been possible without the help and support of local businesses and St. Luke’s University Health Network, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022.
Moore said her participation in the event and ability to provide free plants was supported by funding from Southside Tomorrow, a six-year revitalization program of Community Action Development Bethlehem and the City of Bethlehem.
“I hope attendants were able to have a sense of pride being community residents on the South Side, and I hope that it lends to more collaborative opportunities in the future and for people to see the businesses that are there and frequent their business and see how much we’re able to work together to make this area thrive,” Moore said.
Upcoming events, both free and ticketed, can be found on the SouthSide Arts District website.