Alarmed by the heavy drinking by some at South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, local residents and organizations are working to curb under-age alcohol consumption and ensure that the parade is a family-friendly event.
South Boston CAN Reduce Underage Drinking, an organization that has been working for nine years to curb drinkin and provide activities for families away from the drunken revelers, met Friday afternoon to go over its game plan for the parade.
“The parade organizers are only responsible for the parade,” said Kay Walsh, director of the program, which is funded through a federal grant. “We are responsible for the safety of residents and families.”
Walsh’s group plans to establish family friendly zones, distribute posters supporting the responsible consumption of alcohol and workg with the local police to ensure that revelers know that if they break the law they will be cited. Her group hopes to put a dent in consumption and availability of alcohol to minors.
The effort shows how times have changed, long time parade watchers say.
“It was different time and a different expression than it is now,” said Kate Flaherty, 78, a retired social worker and South Boston resident. “Everybody was drinking, but it wasn’t a big drunken mess.”
According to the Boston Public Health Commission’s “Substance Abuse in Boston” report, published in 2011, South Boston had the highest rate of heavy alcohol consumption in 2008 among adults. That statistic was on the minds of many at Friday’s meeting.
“I’m concerned about the ramifications of drinking and its influence on incivility,” said Ed Oliver/Bohld, 72, a third-generation South Boston resident. “[It causes] public urination, disrespect to women and property. It’s not that partying in itself is bad, but excessive partying with excessive drinking is.”
The group has been making headway over the past nine-years.
“Last year there was a major shift in the support from the police’s commitment to reduce public drinking,” said Walsh. “The kids saw the police in action in an appropriate and dignified way and learned from it.”
Last year the Boston Police department began distributing fliers, informing revelers what is and isn’t legal. Although some of the rules are obvious, such as no public urination and public drinking, others are often overlooked, such as rules prohibiting the occupancy of a non-permitted roof deck or the prospct of a $200 fine for a house that is deemed disorderly.
The group has also received an outpouring of support from South Boston based neighborhood associations and non-profits.
The South Boston Association of Non-Profits for the past seven years has distributed a letter supporting the initiative to curb underage drinking and make the parade family friendly. This year Walsh hopes to have nearly 55 organizations sign on.
But even with support, Walsh faces an uphill battle. With thousands pouring into South Boston for the parade not everyone respects the wishes of the neighbors.
“Anything that lasts 111 years has an intrinsic value,” said Walsh. “Whether we like it or not it impacts our families and out children and needs to stop.”
The group has one last meeting before the parade. Along with looking at ways to reduce access to alcohol for underage kids and working with bars and liquor stores to close early and control their patrons, Walsh said the group will be preparing its family friendly zones, complete with face painting and a cordoned off area where non-registered revelers are barred from.
The group’s next meeting will be held March 9 at the Mount Washington Bank Boardroom on West Broadway.
"This parade is for everyone," said Walsh. "It became very clear in the past years that public drinking is not going to be overlooked [by the police or neighbors]. It's against the law."