Most of us non-Vermonters have been challenged to adjust to bitter wind chills and sub-zero temperatures these past few months. During that sometimes grueling process we have learned one thing: Burlington residents know how to make the most of the snow and the cold! The annual Mardi Gras Festival, sponsored by a local brewery called Magic Hat and a plethora of small businesses, is a prime example. Held in downtown Burlington, this year was the 20th annual edition, and the first that benefited the Vermont Food Bank.
The parade on Saturday is the main event. This year, the skies were unusually clear and blue, and the weather was a relatively warm 20 degrees. It was a good day to have a mid-winter carnival. Like most of Mardi Gras: Burlington Edition, the parade is a family-friendly event that brings out kids in droves to catch beads, chocolate, and cheese. Yes, cheese! Running perpendicular to Church Street, Main Street is closed off between Battery Street and Edmunds Elementary School for the afternoon. The dedicated staff at the Vermont Food Bank coordinated the event this year, which requires 300 volunteers to serve as float walkers, bead throwers, and crowd control. Nearly all of them are community members who have teamed up with colleagues at work or just a group of friends looking to help out.
This year, the UVM College of Medicine pitched in with a team of volunteers. Comprised mostly of first-year medical students, our group was assigned to crowd control. Keeping children safe from moving vehicles and throwing beads and goodies into the crowd were our primary goals. We were the front lines to the thousands of people who came out with their families to watch the parade. With our bright yellow XXL volunteer T-shirts, thrown over layers of insulation and jackets, we definitely stood out in the crowd! For most of us, this winter festival was a new experience.
A few hours in the community makes you realize how limiting medical school can be on one’s personal life if you’re not careful. There’s a decent chance we would have spent the entire day in the library while this incredible winter festival with thousands of people happened just a few streets away. Events like the Mardi Gras parade are constant reminders that we medical students are not here to fulfill a selfish desire to become doctors, but to serve a patient population represented by the people who go out to watch the parade every year.
Our goal next year will be to bring a much larger group to represent the College of Medicine, and to sign up early enough to get the coveted volunteer position of float walkers. The group that brings the most volunteers wins a dinner of 15 flatbreads at American Flatbread – a worthy goal, in addition to representing our medical school in the community!