BCC students linger outside package store -- to raise awareness


PITTSFIELD -- Sidney Hamilton, Abby Walto and Rebecca Hover had a hard time finding adults to buy them alcohol Tuesday night.

The three Berkshire Com munity College students, all under the 21-year-old legal drinking limit, stood outside Nichols Package Store on Wahconah Street asking adults walking into the store if they would buy them booze if given the money.

The trio didn't really want the alcohol. They were conducting this year's first shoulder taps survey, an effort by the Pittsfield Prevention Part nership (PPP) to gauge how many people in the community would contribute alcohol to minors.

And thanks to two grants, the PPP plans on doing more shoulder taps this year than the two in 2012.

"Each time we've done it, we've only had one to three people say yes out of probably 25 to 30," said Karen Cole, the coordinator of Youth Development for the PPP. "We're not trying to get people arrested. This is about education and awareness."

Within the 7 p.m. hour Tuesday, Nichols bustled with people. In the 25 people surveyed under an hour, only one person said they would buy the trio alcohol.

Depending on the answer, the volunteers would either give the adult a yellow card that thanked them for saying no, or a red card explaining what their penalties could have been for buying alcohol for minors.

Watching from afar, most people would hastily walk away from the volunteers as soon as they asked the question. Others stayed back to talk to the girls.

The volunteers had to pose the question theoretically, using words like "if" and "would." If they said yes, as one man did, they would not be arrested since shoulder taps is not a sting operation.

"They haven't been mean, they've been shocked or a little put off that someone would ask them that," Hamilton said. "A lot of them act like they've just been ‘Punk'd.' "

After Jason Santolin, of Pittsfield, said no to the volunteers, he went inside Nichols to buy his own beer.

"I couldn't believe someone was asking me that," he said. "I have teenagers, and I wouldn't want someone buying them alcohol."

Pittsfield resident Jeff Johnson also didn't agree to buy the minors alcohol, having five children himself, he said.

"I think it's good, but they shouldn't be standing so close," Johnson said. "They should be standing over there, by the telephone pole, or down the street."

Two of the volunteers would ask the shoppers as they walked in the store, while the third took notes from inside the car of PPP coordinator Paul McNeil, who was surprised at the amount of traffic at Nichols on a Tuesday night.

"We usually do this earlier," he said.

Before heading over to Nichols, McNeil, the three volunteers, Sgt. Mark Trapani and Cole, who did not go to Nichols, all met to go over the protocol for the evening. Trapani had corresponded with Nichols management before the event.

Beforehand, the group took turns acting out several possible scenarios described in a shoulder taps survey booklet.

Hamilton, who is an intern at PPP, talked Hover and Walto into volunteering.

"I was nervous," Walto said. "I didn't know what it'd entail."

In the 25 people surveyed under an hour, 19 were men.

"I was so scared to walk up to people and ask them," Hover said. "I was more scared to ask the women. I felt like they were going to give me a hard time."

Trapani was off to the side watching from his truck, just in case any situation got out of hand.

When the night ended, Trapani said it was "excellent" that almost everyone refused to buy alcohol for minors.

"The more we're in the general public, the better," Trapani said. "We can put up billboards... but experiences like this drive it home to people."


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