If you’ve driven through Natick Center lately, you can’t miss them. Thousands of purple and red flags flap in the breeze, placed by volunteers on the lawn of the First Congregational Church earlier this month to honor the 2,104 lives lost to opioids in Massachusetts in 2021. Sadly, that number has not significantly budged from last year’s Massachusetts Department of Public Health tally of 2,015.
The purple flags represent the number of Massachusetts residents who lost their life the prior year from an overdose. The red flags represent lives lost in any year to substance use and are meant to be personalized by those affected by opioid-related tragedy.
Although all the purple flags have already been placed, community members are encouraged to take a red flag from the available bin, personalize it with one of the black sharpies, also available in the bin, and place the flag with the others. Not comfortable with a public display of emotions that might come forward during this process? Take a red flag with you, personalize it at home, and bring it back later to add to the display.
The installation is sponsored by SOAR (Supporting Outreach and Addiction Recover) Natick. In addition to what has become an annual display, the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization awards grants to individuals working on their recovery; presents scholarships to graduating Natick High School seniors whose lives have been personally impacted by Substance Use Disorder and/or who plan to pursue the education, prevention, and treatment of addiction or a related field; presents community forums to share information on topics such as the new Metrowest “Rise On” Mobile Health Van; and more.
The flags are on the move as of Sept. 11 to a couple of hospitals, then to Natick High School.