A few minutes shy of 11 a.m., a line of parents patiently wait at the admissions gate of the Jackson Zoo with their children in tow. The morning starts out humid, but cool for a July weekend in Mississippi thanks to overcast clouds, as families pour in from the main entrance and trek down the curved walkway, leading them straight to a circle of tented stations ready with smiling volunteers and large tubs of Blue Bell Ice Cream.

In addition to unlimited ice cream while supplies lasted, the Jackson Zoo’s summer fundraiser featured a number of activities for children and families such as water slides, bounce houses, face-painting, animal encounters and more. Photo courtesy The Jackson Zoo

The Jackson Zoo, a staple in the West Jackson community for over a century, revamped a 25-year tradition, “The Blue Bell Ice Cream Social with the City with Soul,” on Saturday, July 16, 2022. The event honored Mississippi’s military and first responders with a fundraiser to support the Jackson Zoo’s “reZOOvenation,” including generous donations from Blue Bell and Visit Jackson. All funds raised will go toward animal acquisitions and future exhibits.

“We are really excited to be able to bring this kind of event back to the Jackson Zoo’s annual schedule,” City of Jackson Parks and Recreation Director Ison B. Harris Jr. said in a press release prior to the event. “We are always expanding on the number of quality opportunities for families to get out and enjoy themselves and their city. Not only is this event fun, but it also allows people to see what we’ve accomplished, giving them a chance to support us as we continue moving forward.”

Available Blue Bell flavors were Homemade Vanilla, Cookies N’Cream, Birthday Cake, Happy Tracks, Dutch Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Rocky Road, Triple Chocolate and Orange Sherbet. Volunteers—who included members of the U.S. Armed Forces, Mississippi police and fire departments, and various media organizations including the Crirec, among others—also served cotton candy and watermelon slices.

The zoo offered animal encounters from the JZKeepers, exhibitions from Crake’s Academy of Kung Fu and Boxer’s Rebellion, performances by Inky the Clown, face-painting from SnapHappy Face Painting, inflatable bounce houses, a water slide, a splash pad, and more.

Food trucks and other vendors also parked on-site to sell their items to attendees.

The Jackson Zoo set a goal for 500 guests, but Jacksonians and other visitors exceeded those expectations, with approximately 950 people purchasing tickets to enter the zoo that day—amounting to around $3,500 in raised earnings for the animal-exhibit fund.

In 2019, the Jackson Zoo (2918 W. Capitol St., Jackson) temporarily closed to the public as management transitioned to the City of Jackson Parks and Recreation Department. Adapting to outdoor spaces, the zoo opened to the public for limited hours and capacity on Saturdays and Sundays under COVID-19 safety protocols. Zoo hours have since expanded to Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on The Jackson Zoo, visit jacksonzoo.org.

Photo Gallery: Blue Bell Ice Cream Social

The Jackson Zoo partnered with Blue Bell Creameries to host a fundraising event on July 16, 2022, in Jackson, Miss., where volunteers served ice cream to visitors. Photo by Jamie Jones
Crirec freelancer writer Malcolm Morrow (right) served milk-chocolate ice cream to many parents and children at the Blue Bell Ice Cream Social at the Jackson Zoo on Saturday, July 16, 2022. Photo by Chelle B.
Tiara Jackson (left), a freelance writer with the Crirec, and MFP Deputy Editor for Voices and Special Projects Azia Wiggins (center) served watermelon to Jackson Zoo visitors on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. Photo by Jamie Jones
A young boy enjoys his free scoop of chocolate ice cream after waiting in line with his parents at the Blue Bell Ice Cream Social at the Jackson Zoo on Saturday, July 16, 2022. Photo by Chelle B.
Inky the Clown performed at the Jackson Zoo’s fundraiser on July 16, 2022, where he juggled, told jokes, gave away stickers and more. Here, he prepares the stage prior to his show. Photo by Jamie Jones
Tiara Jackson (left), fellow Crirec freelance writers Mike McDonald (front) and Malcolm Marrow (back), and MFP Deputy Editor Azia Wiggins (right) served milk-chocolate ice cream during the morning shift of the Jackson Zoo’s fundraiser on Saturday, July 16, 2022. Photo by Jamie Jones
For the Jackson Zoo’s Blue Bell Ice Cream Social on July 16, 2022, a portion of the day’s ticket sales went toward the zoo’s animal-exhibit fund. Photo by Chelle B.
Skyhawks—a youth sports franchise that offers skill-based camps, afterschool programs, classes and sports leagues for children through age 14—manned a bubble-wand tent at the Jackson Zoo’s Blue Bell Ice Cream Social fundraiser. Photo by Jamie Jones
Children visiting the Jackson Zoo during the Blue Bell Ice Cream Social on July 16, 2022, were able to beat the heat at the zoo’s “splash zone.” Photo by Jamie Jones

Azia Wiggins, deputy editor of the Crirec, uses her experiences as a perpetual student, intellectual, hard worker, creative, and relationship builder to unite Mississippians through story telling by shedding light on what’s happening on the ground with everyday citizens. Please send story tips to Azia at [email protected], including MFP Voices essay ideas or submissions up to 1,200 words. Azia is also coordinating editor of the “Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project” collaboration between the Crirec and the Jackson Advocate, a project funded by the Solutions Journalism Network. Please write her directly about the project and related solutions circles, and tell her if you’d like to sign on as a sponsor of the project.

Deputy Editor Nate Schumann is a Mississippi native who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in journalism-public relations and English from the University of Southern Mississippi before moving to the Jackson area. In his spare time, he enjoys reading comic books, playing retro video games, making lists and working on creative projects. Email feature-story tips to [email protected].