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Non-Profits Benefit from Pensacola Mardi Gras

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pensacolamardigras.com
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Mardi Gras-Pensacola style kicked off January 6 and runs through Fat Tuesday, February 28. The merriment also provides help to local residents in need.

Behind the masks, the costumes, the beads and the floats that make Mardi Gras the biggest party of the year, there are also the charities and other organizations who benefit. Pensacola Mardi Gras President Danny Zimmern has overseen the event’s growth.

“When we started doing this about 16, 17 years ago, there were about 30 krewes, and now Pensacola is up to about 90 krewes,” said Zimmern. “Each krewe has a different objective and agenda.”

While some krewes’ objectives are just to have fun, others combine that with community service in and around Pensacola.

“All the different krewes choose their own charity to work for, whatever’s their passion,” said Zimmern. “The Ya-Yas do breast cancer awareness; Karrus Navalis does a big food drive, which is one of Manna [Food Pantry’s] top five food drives of the year. And everywhere in between.”

In a previous interview, Zimmern placed the parade’s economic at about one million dollars, along with proceeds from two other parades and 30 Krewe balls. Another $500,000 comes from fundraisers and similar events.

Among those benefitting from Mardi Gras is Gulf Coast Kid’s House, a not-for-profit which provides services to victims of child abuse.

A number of crews have really come together and donated quite a bit to us during the Mardi Gras season,” said Megan Chapman, Outreach & Development Director at Kids House. “The Krewe of Blues has been instrumental in coordinating a diaper drive for us each year, at their upcoming “Pin and Bead Swap. We also have the Krewe of Swat that has helped us out with wrapping parties and collecting donations.”

Pensacola’s Grand Mardi Gras Parade is set for February 25 -- the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. It’s the largest annual event downtown, with about 250 entries and more than six thousand participants. And unlike New Orleans and Carnival in Rio de Janiero – Zimmern says Pensacola’s revelry is family-friendly.

“The costumes are great, the people are well-mannered; there’s very little that’s really super adult-type stuff,” Zimmern said. “We really do pride ourselves on this ‘family-friendly’ attitude we have around here.”

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Credit Sacred Heart Foundation
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One of the more grown-up events is the 22nd annual Mall Ball – where Cordova Mall is converted into a large party space for a night – this year, on January 28. 

“Twenty-two years ago you couldn’t go to a Mardi Gras ball; you had to be a member of a krewe, or you had to be invited by a member of a krewe,” said Sue Martin, who founded the Mall Ball in 1996.

“The first year we did it with one band at center court,” said Martin. “I had about 12 restaurants, we had bars. It was the same premise, it was just certainly not expanded the way it is now.

This year, about two dozen restaurants will cater the event, which also features three bands and a silent auction. The Mall Ball’s lone beneficiary is the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart.

“Over the past 21 years, this event has produced $4.5 million in proceeds,” says Sacred Heart Foundation Director Adrienne Maygarden. This year’s goal is $500,000 the existing facility, the new Children’s Hospital now under construction, and the purchase of some state-of-the-art pediatric MRI goggles.

“Which will allow us to sedate less children during the MRI imaging process,” Maygarden said. “And it will improve results and diagnoses.”

A complete list of Mardi Gras parades and events for 2017 can be found at www.pensacolamardigras.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.