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Mardi Gras

St. Francis to hold annual fundraising celebration

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St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church’s annual Mardi Gras Celebration is a fun event with a festive atmosphere, says Robert Tanner.

“People dress up and have a good time,” said Tanner, who is vice chair of the church’s Mardi Gras Committee. “The community looks forward to this event.”

The 18th Mardi Gras Celebration will be held 7 p.m. to midnight Feb. 16 at the Leflore County Civic Center.

Tickets to the event are $35 each and include a night of dancing, a New Orleans style buffet, the coronation of the King and Queen of the Ball and a 50-50 raffle.

“Most people who are there have attended for years, and they look forward to this event,” said Dianne Jones, chair of the Mardi Gras committee. “They enjoy the line dances, and it’s decorated beautifully.”

This will be the second year Jackson-based DJ Traxx Cre8tor will provide the event’s entertainment.

“He kept people on the dance the floor,” said Glara Martin, a committee member.

Those attending must dress in semi-formal or Mardi Gras festive attire.

A crowd of about 300 to 400 attends each year, and organizers have a goal of selling 500 tickets this year.

The proceeds from the event benefit St. Francis of Assisi School.

“It’s one of two major fundraisers that we have, and it’s the one that the parish sponsors for the school,” said the Rev. Joachim Studwell, pastor of St. Francis Church.

While the celebration successfully raises money for the school every year, Jones said she hopes the upcoming event is a sellout.

Toward the end of the 2017-18 school year, St. Francis School came close to having to shut its doors because of a low number of students registered for the following year. In May, the school finally met its quota for enrollment to continue to operate.

“We’ve never had that scare since I’ve been here,” said Jones. “The school has been here too long to close the doors.”

The money from the Mardi Gras Celebration will go toward student scholarships or other needs at Principal Jackie Lewis’ s discretion.

“It’s not only a good time, but it’s also having a very positive benefit for the children in the area and their education,” said Studwell.

St. Francis of Assisi Grade School opened in 1951, three years after the arrival of the first Franciscan friars from Wisconsin in late July 1948.

Since then, thousands of children from the Greenwood area have received a quality primary school education in the Catholic tradition.

The school began as a response to the poor quality of education African-American youth were receiving under the Jim Crow laws of segregation in Mississippi at the time.

The Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph from Ohio taught for many years. Twenty-one years ago, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, arrived and continue today.

The school runs from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Children from various backgrounds, faiths and cultures receive an education together.

“This school has done so much in this community,” said Tanner. “Most people think that most people at the school are Catholic. They’re not. We reach out to the whole community.”

St. Francis School is almost 30 percent Catholic. The rest of the students come from many denominations.

“We’ve got children from all over the community — Baptist, Methodist,” said Jackie Ratliff, a member of the Mardi Gras committee. “I think what really makes the school stand out is the religious aspect. ... Here they stress religion, and they have religious classes. That makes a big difference.”

Studwell said the school not only focuses on education but also on the students’ safety — physically, emotionally and spiritually — and on building a healthy self-confidence in each child. The school also has small class sizes, which is beneficial to the students.

“The teachers are very dedicated to the students, and I think the students respond in kind,” said Studwell.

The Mardi Gras committee works on the event year-round.

“We do a lot of fundraising in between to help with the cost of the Mardi Gras Celebration,” said Martin.

The group raises money by holding bingo, fish fries and a monthly 50-50 drawing.

Most of the committee members have been involved with the event since it began.

“When we first started, we were standing outside the church one Sunday after Mass,” said committee member Edith Spells. “We knew about several Mardi Gras balls that were held in Jackson and different places, and we weren’t having anything here, so we talked about doing this for the church and school.”

Since then, the celebration has grown each year.

The committee members say they have received a lot of good feedback about the event.

“People who have attended other balls always say, ‘You all give a lot for the price of the ticket,’ because the menu is out of sight,” said Jones.

After months of planning, Spells said what she enjoys most is the night of the event.

“You walk in the Civic Center that night, and you see all of the decorations,” she said. “Then, we start watching the people as they come in. It’s something to behold.”

Jones said she enjoys “seeing the diversity of the people who attend out there on the dance floor.”

Although planning the event takes time and hard work, it’s a labor of love for the Mardi Gras Committee members.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” said Tanner. “You watch the puzzle being put together, and you walk in there the night of the event, and you see the whole puzzle come together. That’s the rewarding part. You can see everything come together and the hard work that everybody put in.”

Tickets can be purchased at the school, 2607 U.S. 82 E.; parish office, 2613 U.S. 82 E.; from members of the Mardi Gras committee; or at Harris Shoe Repair, 421 Howard St.

For more information, call the school at 453-9511 or visit www.sfgwschool.org.

Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7233 or rrobison@gwcommonwealth.com.

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