By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Looking to the future, there are many unanswered questions about COVID-19 and potential lockdowns. Will there be a second wave in the winter? Will schools return to full-time, in class learning? Will stadiums return to full capacity for marquee events like the Super Bowl? While these questions are all yet to be answered, this week, the residents of Walpole got some unfortunate clarity about one of their most cherished annual events: the Friends of St. Patrick’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and luncheon are both cancelled.
Why cancel something five months from now, rather than wait and see what the world looks like in the spring? According to Donnell Murphy, the event takes a long time to plan, and the Friends of St. Patrick didn’t feel good about taking their 1,000-person luncheon and trying to whittle it to less than 200 people.
“That function has always been a get-together and meet-old-friends type of situation, so to lessen it down to - I don’t know, what’s the maximum now, 125 in a room? I don’t know if that will change between now and March, but even if it changed on January 1, we start organizing this event in September. It’s a lot of work to hold a luncheon for a thousand people. We need a lot of time to get going. So, we didn’t think we’d be able to have the time to organize it correctly and put on a real good event like we always do. We didn’t want to dumb it down, I guess you could say.”
This will be the second year in a row that the luncheon has been cancelled. Last year, the event as scheduled for March 14th, but just days before, as news of the Biogen conference in Boston becoming the state’s first super-spreader event became clearer, the decisions was made. And although it was a tough decision at the time, it looks very smart in hindsight.
“Last year Jim Brady was the Person of the Year, and it was the 34th luncheon that we were supposed to have. We had everything done for the event - all the gifts were in, all the donations more or less were in, the raffle prizes were all set up, the parade was all set up, the hall and other venues we go to afterwards were all ready, everyone was all set up - but unfortunately, we had to cancel it. But we’re kind of glad we did, because that was just when everyone was starting to learn about the Biogen incident, which kind of was the first super-spreader type event, and that was in our mind a lot when we were thinking of holding our event. We didn’t want that to happen to our event and have us turn into a super-spreader event, way back in the beginning when nobody really knew what to expect.”
Another issue is that having cancelled it so quickly, there was a lot of unpacking to do. Murphy noted that they had to do some things, like offer to give back raffle prizes and donations, which took some time to get through.
But that’s not to say the charities aren’t going to receive their donations. In fact, on November 18, the Friends are going to hold a virtual raffle and present the checks to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Walpole Food Bank that they would have last year at the luncheon, as the two organizations were Person of the Year Jim Brady’s charities of choice.
A responsibility to Jim Brady is also part of why the group didn’t choose a Person of the Year for this year. Rather than choose someone and give them a prize over Zoom, they are still looking to give Jim Brady the recognition he deserves, and at some point, the luncheon he never got.
“I think we still feel obligated to honor Jim Brady and have the luncheon for Jim Brady. I believe what we’re going to do next year is honor him and give him his dues.”
The hope is that for the November virtual raffle, Jim Brady can pull the numbers - but if not, they still want to give his charities their checks at that time, so they can have them before Thanksgiving. The cost for the raffle will be $20 and the prizes will be those that were donated for this year’s luncheon: a one-thousand-dollar scratch ticket board, an autographed Chris Wagner Bruins jersey, and a 50-inch TV.
This March, the group will also have a second virtual raffle and will continue with the winter-based charity activities it has always done. Though it is very painful to lose their marquee event two years in a row, Murphy said the Friends of St. Patrick are still doing okay financially, and have enough money that they believe they will be able to donate $35,000 on their 35th anniversary in 2022.
To learn more about the Friends of St. Patrick and to donate, visit www.friendsofsaintpatrick.org.