A Circle of Giving that Reaches Around the World

The Giving Circle is giving back to the community while bringing Mardi Gras to Saratoga Springs

Story by Caitlin Fitzpatrick
Photos provided by The Giving Circle, Inc.

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Floats with lively musicians accompany the parade.

Parade floats, beads, and jazz music are some of the elements normally associated with Mardi Gras celebrations. For the past three years, The Giving Circle, Inc., an organization that benefits underprivileged local residents, has been sponsoring a Mardi Gras festival that does more than just bring entertainment and fun to the city of Saratoga Springs.

Initially created in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, The Giving Circle, Inc., is a non-profit organization based in Saratoga Springs that was founded in 2005 by Jefferson Award nominee Mark Bertrand and jockeys Aaron Gryder and Shane Sellers. Originally working on the Gulf Coast, the organization expanded shortly after and also began working locally with disadvantaged and needy families in Saratoga County.

“Locally, we work with individuals in need, and we also work with other non-profits,” says Ron Deutsch, president of The Giving Circle, Inc.

The organization receives a lot of support from the community because of their efforts and participation in the festival. “We certainly support it. It’s an opportunity to support a very worthy cause,” says Johnnie Roberts, program coordinator for the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center.

The revitalization of the Beekman Street Artist's District is another local cause the organization supports.   Deutsch added that lately there have been a lot of local artists opening galleries on Beekman Street, so they have the Mardi Gras parade there to draw attention to the new businesses and galleries in the district.  “It’s an area very unique to Saratoga Springs,” Roberts adds.

“Locally, we work with individuals in need,
and we also work with other non-profits.”

Four years ago, The Giving Circle started sponsoring the Saratoga Springs Mardi Gras Festival to raise money for its causes.  This year, the organization is sponsoring the festival along with the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Councils Latino Community Advocacy program, a non-profit organization that helps low-income individuals gain skills and knowledge to become economically self-sufficient. The festival will be held Saturday, April 30 in downtown Saratoga, and it will feature an Arti Gras Parade on Beekman Street; a Cajun cooking competition and tasting festival featuring local downtown restaurants; and festive music.  All proceeds from the festival will benefit both organizations.

The tasting festival and cooking competition will include some of Saratoga’s fine dining restaurants, such as Wheatfields and the Circus Café.  The participating restaurants will compete against one another for best Cajun dishes, and will also offer tasting samples in small serving cups to the patrons for $1.   The hope is that a lot of people will participate in the tasting festival because of the low prices and good food, so the organizations can raise as much money as possible.

“We certainly support it. It’s an opportunity to support a very worthy cause.”

“Last year we had about 24 restaurants participate; this year we’re hoping for more,” Duetsch says.

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More than two dozen restaurants participate in the tasting festival and cooking competition.
The restaurants and locals are also excited to participate in the event, and believe it will increase their flow of business in the long run and help the town. “After the parade you always see more people in the restaurants up here—the city seems a little more lively,” says Gardner Crandall, a local of Saratoga and chef from a nearby hotel.  “Usually if an event is centered around a bunch of restaurants, that has a lasting effect on business.”  

The event may also bring in many visitors from the surrounding areas to experience the festival. “This is not so much a tourist event, but more of a family event for the general area and Capital District,” Roberts says, noting there will be a children’s parade and other family fun events throughout the day.

Today, the Giving Circle still continues to work nationally with the Gulf Coast, and focuses their national action on Waveland, Miss., a town devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  After the hurricane's massive destruction, only 35 homes were still habitable, and months later, the town was still mostly made up of tents, with only 40 percent of its residents returning home. The Giving Circle adopted Waveland as its sister city for Saratoga Springs and assisted with rebuilding homes and repairs.  The profits from the Mardi Gras festival will also go to helping the residents and reconstruction of Waveland. “We’ve been going down there since Hurricane Katrina. We’ve made about 22 trips so far. We were building houses, and now we’re focusing on the community,” Deutsch says.

“Last year we had about 24 restaurants participate; this year
we’re hoping for more.”

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The parade down Beekman Street gives members of the community a chance to participate in the event.

Recently, the organization expanded again to begin working internationally with women and children in Uganda.   The Giving Circle took Julius and Irene Lwanga, the executive director and founder of Uganda Children’s Hope Foundation, under their wing. The orphanage houses children who have the HIV virus or have been orphaned because their parents died from AIDS.  The Giving Circle is helping to raise much needed funds for the charity to build a permanent home called the Koi Koi House for the children. It will provide education and feature a farm to provide food for the residents. To help raise the funds, the organization has been selling paper bead jewelry made by the women of Uganda that also benefits the local women and the AIDS widows of the village.

Working locally, nationally, and now internationally, the Giving Circle, Inc. has lived up to its name. They have made themselves valuable members of the Saratoga community, continuously giving to those in need while raising awareness about the importance of charity.

Which part of the Saratoga Springs Mardi Gras Festival seems most exciting to you?

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