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St. Patrick's Day parade in Old First Ward is a go – for this year

Peg Overdorf didn't have much time to talk Friday afternoon.

She had a fundraiser to set up, and had to pick up a pizza for those helping out. If the wind held off, she was going to get a group together to hang Irish flags on the Old First Ward streets which will be the route for the "Old Neighborhood" St. Patrick's Day Parade.

There's a lot that goes into putting together the annual parade in South Buffalo, which will be held for the 26th straight year on March 16.

But for how much longer? Overdorf doesn't know. Future years of the parade are in doubt unless the event finds some reinforcements in the way of financial sponsors and event organizers.

"Everyone loves it, and I love it too — I don’t want to see it end," said Overdorf, who founded the parade in 1994 and still oversees it as part of her role as executive director of the Valley Community Association.

"But you have to put time into it, and what you are getting out of it in terms of our organization … our time could be more well spent trying to get more money in grants and things like that. There's a lot of legwork, there's a lot involved."

This year's event was in question before some significant financial contributions.

Overdorf said that Labatt Brewing Company is contributing $2,500, a gofundme.com site has passed $1,200 and donations to the VCA's website are around $700. Powers Irish Whiskey has also promised to be a major sponsor this year. "In dribs and drabs it's coming in," she said.

A police fee that was new this year would have presented a near-$5,000 expense, but Buffalo council members David Franczyk and Christopher Scanlon were able to have that and some permit fees waived, she said.

"I don’t know about that fee in the future," Overdorf said of the city fee. "That’s what makes it come down to a decision whether or not to have a parade."

That's because the amount of work results in a relatively small amount of profit that would go toward the programs of the Valley Community Association, which offers child care, senior services and other family benefits, and has been a key part of the First Ward's recent revitalization through its involvement with the Buffalo River Fest Park and Mutual Riverfront Park.

"If I was reaping great benefits, I wouldn’t mind working my tail off. There just comes a time. Our volunteers are getting older, and we need younger ones to stay with us," she said, noting that some volunteers had stepped forward in recent weeks but that more are needed. "I hope a big sponsor comes in so I don't have to waste my time scrambling around to make money just to make it work."

Simple but necessary tasks like hanging the flags for the parade route are ones for which Overdorf has to seek companies to donate their time. Overdorf lauded Elma's HDE Electric for donating their utility truck in recent years for the flag task, as well as members of Laborers' Local 210 who contribute their time to help put the flags up.

"A lot of this stuff we get done with favors," said Overdorf. "If we had the money to pay for it, we wouldn't be put in a position where we're searching for people with trucks to borrow for the day. If you're not paying people, sometimes they're not so quick to come. You have to find them."

The Erie County Sheriff's Office arranges to have inmates help clean the parade route before and after the event. Inmates were also part of a crew that was helping prepare for a fundraiser Saturday at the Valley Community Association which will also help benefit the parade. Overdorf was getting pizza for those helpers Friday afternoon. Along with help from her VCA staff, she'll order the portable toilets, put posters in nearby bars, work on parade prep on nights and weekends. "It's my passion," she said.

Saturday night's event is traditionally attended mostly by friends and family of honorees (this year's grand marshal is longtime VCA volunteer and lifelong Valley resident Dawn Brady Carpino) but Overdorf is hoping that more members of the community attend to support fundraising efforts. Admission is $20 and includes draft beer and soda.

"We certainly still need people's support," Overdorf said.

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