Last Thursday Washington State Senator Mark Mullet, his wife Kelley Mullet, and four of their high-school-aged kids loaded into a Ben and Jerry's catering truck on a mission to give away between 500 and 750 scoops of ice cream to children and parents at five parks near the Issaquah Highlands. Mullet owns three B&J ice cream shops in Washington and lives in the Highlands.
The truck stopped at Davis Loop, Kirk Park, Village Green Park, Ashland Park, and West Highlands Park for twenty minutes at each location, according to a schedule posted in the Facebook event post. In an email Mullet, a Democrat, said he gave out "somewhere between 100 and 150 [scoops] at each stop," and strongly encouraged social distancing in "extremely minimal advertising" and in person. Mullet claimed people in line were spaced six feet apart, "We referred to it in all our signage as 'a cow's length,'" he said. The family also wore gloves and pre-scooped five different flavors into cups at the shop to allow for easier distribution.
"During these crazy times, we felt our neighborhood could use a free scoop," Mullet wrote on Facebook. "We figured the Issaquah Highlands can be an example of how you can do an event like this while keeping everybody safe and healthy."
Not all of his neighbors agreed.
That afternoon an Issaquah Police officer responded to a caller complaining about a "large gathering" of children and parents lining up for scoops of ice cream at Ashland Park.
According to the police report, the officer saw the people in that park "observing proper social distancing guidelines" and did not order anyone to vacate the park. After receiving another complaint, the cop went back to the park but "the van was gone and so were nearly all people who had been at the park."
One resident who lives across the street from a different park witnessed "over a hundred people gathered for ice cream." This resident, who asked to remain anonymous because they "have to live with these people," said parents "set up their kids with all their friends for group photos on my porch steps!"
"As the afternoon went on," the resident continued, "People started posting complaints about the crowds and the safety in the comments [on the Facebook event page] and the post was deleted." The Issaquah Highlands Facebook page is private.
"It goes against everything we are being told about social distancing," this person added. "I get that people are crowding stores, etc., too. But he brought the crowds to my street—my porch—and did the same to many of my neighbors."
Mullet claims the "vast majority of the residents did an excellent job of following all the social distancing guidelines," but admits seeing "a few...younger kids" who he felt "were not being responsible." Those kids were asked to do a better job spacing out.
Though "all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes are banned" in Washington, Mullet maintains his free ice cream day event did not violate any of the Governor's orders around gatherings. Under Inslee's Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, "restaurant carry-out and quick-serve food operations—including food preparation, carry-out, and delivery food employees," are considered essential.