VFW Santa Parade plans in limbo

·2 min read

Sep. 22—HAVERHILL — The decision on whether to hold the annual VFW Santa Parade in its traditional form is not expected until sometime next week.

Parade organizers say they are facing multiple issues this year, including a rise in COVID-19 cases in schools, and if that continues most of the scheduled high school marching bands could cancel at any moment.

"Plus we expect they will be vaccinating kids, who may get sick from it, and the Clydesdales are not doing any parades this year," said Dan Plourde Sr., chairman of the VFW Santa Parade Committee. "The Clydesdales are one of our biggest attractions."

A Facebook posting indicating the parade had been canceled was subsequently taken down as it was posted in error, organizers said.

The annual event that draws anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 people along its route and is the longest-running Santa Parade north of Boston. It is usually held the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

The parade had to be canceled last year for the first time in its 55-year history and was replaced by Santa riding a predetermined route on a fire truck and making stops to gather food for the Betsy Conte Food Drive and toys for Ozzie's Kids.

"We've discussed various alternatives such as placing Santa on a decorated float with fire and police escort on a pre-set route with multiple drop off points," Plourde said. "We just don't want to endanger anyone's health."

Other groups of kids that march in the parade include dancing studios, martial arts schools, honor societies and other organizations that could end up canceling as well.

The event costs about $45,000 to put on each year, with most of the money coming from donations and fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament, as well as from funds collected during the parade itself.

"We haven't done much fundraising — not in last year and not this year, so we're between a rock and hard place," Plourde said. "Our concern is for the kids. The list goes on and on with more than 100 groups marching and it all rests on what will happen with COVID."

Another concern is for the crowds that line the route and if it will be safe considering there has been a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the city.

"It is weighing heavily on us," Plourde said. "And there are concerns about police coming in close proximity with so many people."

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