Tales from the Cities
"Our carnivals in past years have been plagued with
alcohol and drugs," says Mendota city clerk Brenda Carter,
as she reflects on the annual community festival. "People
were walking everywhere with open containers. There were
fights, brawls, broken glass bottles everywhere." And the
2003 carnival? "300% better than the one last year and the
one before and the one before that."
What made the difference? The "Alcohol Safe Events"
section in the Community-Based Planning for Environmental
Prevention binder (The Binder) provided at an EMT prevention
training by Dr. Friedner Wittman the previous May. According
to Ms. Carter, all she had to do was follow the easy steps in
The Binder and the results were remarkable.
Mendota, the cantaloupe capital of the world, is
an agricultural city located in the heart of the Central Valley.
Before Brenda applied lessons from The Binder, a local
non-profit was in charge of the annual event, originally
established to celebrate the harvest and provide entertainment
for Mendota's permanent residents and its thousands of migrant
workers who come each summer. Beer was sold freely for $1 per
plastic cup, and people were allowed to bring beer of their
own in glass containers. There were no restrictions on where
one could take alcoholic beverages during the four-day festival.
Out-of-town vendors operated booths for food and souvenirs;
none of the profits were shared with the city or local
Once Brenda Carter saw The Binder, she knew what
she could do. She gathered community leaders, local
non-profits, and residents and asked them what they would
like as a theme. The answer: "Family".
The course was clear after that. To ensure a safe and
enjoyable carnival, the community needed to be involved
in every aspect of the planning process. She approached
the city council for a loan for the up-front costs of the
event, contacted a carnival company for the rides, and then
did some serious community organizing. Local groups such as
Mendota youth recreation, which oversees the local soccer
teams and little league, and other youth, church, and sports
groups agreed to sell tickets for a percentage of the profits,
after a pre-agreed amount went to repay the city for the loan
and other costs. Other local organizations paid a small fee
to the city for booths to sell food, non-alcoholic beverages
and souvenirs. Bands were contracted. A local beer distributor
agreed to pay a $2,000 sponsor fee and agreed to take back any
unopened cases after the event. Local residents sold tickets,
with the top two female sellers crowned queen and princess of
The alcohol policy at work:
The city set up and oversaw operations of a beer garden,
complete with ID checkers, wrist bands for those over 21 and
staffed with city employees. Purchases were limited to two
drinks per purchaser; beer was not allowed outside of the
beer garden. IDs were checked at the entrance, and no one
was allowed who could not provide identification. Beer was
sold in 16 oz plastic bottles, to avoid problems with glass.
Hours and days of operation were limited to Saturday 1-10 pm,
Sunday 1-8 pm, leaving Thursday and Friday events, including
the teen dance on Friday night, alcohol free.
The event lasted four days. Thursday was opening night,
at which the top female ticket-sellers were crowned queen
and princess. Friday night was a teen dance open to the public;
this was a no-alcohol event, with music free of charge (it cost
$40 per person the previous year). Saturday and Sunday were the
main days of the carnival, with rides, booths and the open beer
And how did the economics work out? The city charged a $125
booth fee to all organizations who had food, game or gift booths,
a substantial amount less than the previous organizer charged.
The arrangement was for the city to be reimbursed for insurance,
employee time, and the up-front loan. Costs included the bands
(music was provided free of charge to all attendees), a play
area for children, carnival vendor, insurance, and security,
provided by private security guards and the local sheriff's
department. Due to volunteer efforts of the community and
local merchants, the low cost of booths, a much higher turnout
from the local residents, beer sales and sponsorship, a local
youth sports organization made $6,000, while the city made an
impressive $18 and the chamber of commerce pulled in $341.88.
They had the 2004 festival recently, sponsored by the City
of Mendota and Mendota Youth Recreation. This event was
completely alcohol-free, and there was double the attendance
of last year. It turns out that having alcohol actually isn't
essential to a successful community event - quite the opposite,
if Mendota is any indication. Vendors from other cities
complimented the City on having an alcohol free event and
stated they were going to their councils to get them to do
the same. The City made a net profit from the 2004 event of
$518, up approximately $500.00 over last year -- without alcohol.
The improved turnout, increase in numbers of families and decrease
in alcohol-related problems have proved to the city that alcohol
can actually be a detraction from a successful community event.
Do you have a success story you would like to share?
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C-BERR, including attendance at an overview presentation,
please Contact Us.