Street vendors at the 24th annual Bronx Defenders Block Party in Melrose on July 13. Photo: Andrew Ancheta.

Melrose came alive with music, food and games, as the Bronx Defenders threw its 24th annual block party. The nonprofit, which opened its doors in 1998, provides legal services for Bronxites who can’t afford to hire their own lawyers to defend their rights in criminal cases.

Bronx Defenders held the event virtually for the last two years because of COVID, but on Thursday, July 14 hundreds attended their return to 161st Street. 

Shayna Cook, who has come to Bronx Defenders’ block parties for years, said the children are the best part.

“The kids interacting, having fun, running up and down, winning prizes and the staff is amazing,” she said, adding she hopes block parties like these will become a fixture around the neighborhood. 

Nearby resident Jose Miranda noticed people leaving their apartments to come outside and check out the party.

“I came here today to try to have some fun. So I’m calling my family to come through here too,” said Miranda. 

Beare Flores, a 15-year Marine veteran who now works as a film industry photographer, used to live in the area, shot photographs to capture images of his former community at play.

Beyond just organizing the party, employees from The Bronx Defenders worked as vendors and cooks, and handed out refreshments, while also overseeing the “bounce house” the young people played in. 

Christopher Garcia, a Bronx Defenders staffer who mentors young people interested in becoming public defenders, enthralled the crowd with another of his skills: cooking. “I’m the cook in my house, even though my wife would say differently.”

Justine Olderman, executive director of Bronx Defenders, said the block party is “a way of basically letting people know that we want to be part of the community, engage with the community. Everybody needs connection, and this is our way of helping do ours.” 

She added that interested members of the public “can eat cotton candy while picking up community resources, booklets and handouts about information that may help you.”

She hopes others will appreciate the way the block party has grown over the years, and will try to replicate it in other areas in The Bronx.

The Bronx Defenders is located at 360 E. 161st Street, and can be contacted via email at, or by phone at 718-838-7878.

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