A slight drizzle didn’t deter hundreds of people from attending a free patriotic celebration July 3 at Suntree United Methodist Church.

Visitors enjoyed free hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, pasta salad, cookies and beverages during the seventh annual Suntree Stars and Stripes at the church at 7400 N. Wickham Road.

On the church lawn, children busied themselves with a variety of activities, playing cornhole and trying to keep hula hoops spinning.

Grace Stiles Williams, the church's new director of welcome and outreach, was delighted with the turnout for her first organized event.

“I didn’t expect this many people just because of the rain and because of how hot it was,” Stiles Williams said. “But we ordered enough food to feed 500 people and so at the end of the day I’ll count out how many hot dogs and hamburgers. But I’m really, really happy, especially for my first event.”

The celebration later moved indoors for a concert of patriotic favorites featuring the Melbourne Municipal Band, led by conductor Staci Rosbury, along with the Suntree United Methodist Chancel Choir under the direction of Dr. Robert E. Lamb. 

It’s the first time since 2019 that the celebration had both indoor and outdoor events, Stiles Williams said. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. “Last year we had a concert but it was outside to maintain better social distancing,” she said. 

The church was happy to invite the community back for pre-Independence Day fun, food and music, Stiles Williams said.

“Gathering with our neighbors is part of what it means to be American,” she said.