ArcGNO Breaks Bead Record With 2019 Mardi Gras Collection
For more than 30 years, ArcGNO has created wage-earning jobs for individuals with intellectual disabilities by collecting, sorting and repackaging Mardi Gras throws for resale.
I have kept every Mardi Gras bead and throw I have ever caught at every parade I ever attended since 1990. I placed them in plastic baggies and labeled them with the names and dates of the parades and even included a list of friends I was with when I caught them. I believe in the magic of Mardi Gras, and feel each and every bead I ever caught was special.
My eccentricity has even earned some accolades – in the late 1990s, The Discovery Channel featured me, a loud and proud charter member of the Krewe of Orpheus, in an hour-long documentary about my Mardi Gras madness, and Tulanian Magazine wrote an article chronicling my Carnival craziness.
Well… in 2016, I was finally ready to say goodbye – to about 52 gross (7,453 beads) from my collection/ 24 boxes of beads from my French Quarter apartment.
I lovingly revisited each bag of beads I kept throughout the years, and sorted and bundled the ones I was ready to part with into bunches of 12 and 24 by color, size and length. There were 843 purple beads, 814 white pearls, 697 green beads, 630 gold beads and 2,240 beads in other assorted colors. There were 810 krewe-branded beads (Bacchus, Muses, Rex, Orpheus, Thoth, Shangri-La, Sparta and Tucks) and 1,419 old school small plastic beads. I also set aside cups, doubloons, plush stuffed animals and toys, spears, koozies and bracelets.
I didn’t quite know what I was going to do with my Carnival cache, except I wanted my discarded beads to make other Mardi Gras revelers as happy as I was when I caught them the first time around.
I decided to donate them to Arc of Greater New Orleans’ (ArcGNO) Mardi Gras Recycle Center, a year-round business that employs more than 80 people with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other intellectual and behavioral limitations. These full and part-time employees, who earn minimum wage or above, sort, band and repackage Mardi Gras beads for resale at ArcGNO’s Retail Store located at 925 Labarre Rd., in Metairie.
ArcGNO recently announced it has collected more than 133 tons of throws during the 2019 Mardi Gras season and in the two weeks following through special bead drives. Reps said that’s more than double what the agency collected in all of 2018.
Today and Monday, April 22, the 66-year-old independent, local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization will host two groups of foreign visitors, part of a delegation led by the Department of State, to assist bead team members in sorting its stash and repackaging the donations for resale.
“We had a lot of expectations going into Mardi Gras this year about how much we would recycle,” said ArcGNO executive director Dr. Stephen Sauer. “We are overwhelmed at how successful this Carnival Season was. I’m delighted to say that we have already far surpassed last year’s collection and the beads just keep pouring in.”
After collecting and weighing beads from every corner of the metro area, Dr. Sauer believes the success of this year’s ArcGNO’s recycling effort is due in part to public interest and motivation to create a greener Gras by recycling Mardi Gras beads rather than have throws end up in attics, landfills or storm drains.
“ArcGNO has become synonymous with bead recycling, and we are delighted to be part of a growing effort to lessen the environmental impact of Mardi Gras,” he said. “Our recycling business is booming because well-intentioned and engaged citizens want to make a difference, and this is an easy way to do so.”
“The Urban Conservancy’s Future of Mardi Gras forum, held last October 18, at the Carver Theater, brought 300 New Orleanians together to discuss ways to reduce the adverse environmental impact of Carnival season while growing the local economic impact,” said Dana Eness, director of Urban Conservancy, a New Orleans-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization catalyzing equitable policies and practices related to the urban built environment and the local economy through research, education and advocacy. “It encouraged New Orleanians to continue to share their ideas for more sustainable practices on and off the parade route and launch initiatives that shift the focus away from trashing the city and toward uplifting more local, ethical, green traditions. This Carnival season, we’re seeing the results of connections made at the forum.”
“The success of each Carnival season has been traditionally measured by the tonnage of debris collected by the end of Mardi Gras Day,” said Brett Davis, founder of Grounds Krewe, an organization focused on waste reduction at parades. “But it is clear from survey responses collected from Future of Mardi Gras forum attendees that the public is ready to measure our success using more sustainable metrics. Fifty-six percent of survey respondents reported that their largest concern was reducing street garbage and increasing recycling during Carnival season.”
This year, ArcGNO placed nearly 130 Mardi Gras recycle bins in area businesses, hotels, libraries and condominiums and received Mardi Gras bead donations from more than 25 schools.
To expand its current recycling programs in Orleans Parish, ArcGNO again partnered with the Young Leadership Council to distribute recycle bags to collect beads, throws and recycled waste following the Krewe of Freret and Krewe of Tucks parades. ArcGNO partnered with Grounds Krewe to do the same after the Krewe of Muses and Krewe of Toth parades.
In Jefferson Parish, the Jefferson Parish Council passed an ordinance that allowed ArcGNO to roll a “Throw ‘Em Back” float after the Krewe of Excalibur, Krewe of Kings, Krewe of Centurions and Krewe of Isis parades. It collected 10,267 pounds of beads as the float encouraged those along the parade route to recycle throws immediately after the parades passed.
ArcGNO also enjoyed another sweet Mardi Gras bead drive with Krispy Kreme’s “Beads-for-Doughnuts” campaign, that offered the public one dozen free Original Glazed® doughnuts to guests who brought in 12 pounds or more of Mardi Gras beads to the Krispy Kreme shop at 825 Clearview Pkwy., in Metairie, on Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26.
Even Shell, one of ArcGNO’s key community partners, ran a public service announcement during the Mardi Gras season that helped raise awareness about ArcGNO that serves approximately 600 children and adults in Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Tammany parishes. ArcGNO offers family service coordination, respite, personal care, supported employment, day habilitation and supported living assistance, and has managed its Mardi Gras Recycle Center for more than 30 years.
ArcGNO reps said its Mardi Gras Recycle Center warehouse is currently stocked from floor to ceiling with boxes that hold more than a thousand pounds each. They said the boxes will make their way into a large production area where ArcGNO team members and volunteers will sort and repackage the beads and throws so that they can be sold through the non-profit’s online and retail stores.
“We absolutely depend on the generosity of the community not only to help us collect but to help us sort through all we have received,” said ArcGNO’s Mardi Gras Recycle Center manager Toni Wright. “We host thousands of volunteers every year, as they are essential to our success. We have streamlined our production process so we can involve large groups of volunteers almost seamlessly. Since we have no automation, every item we sell is sorted by a human hand. That’s why we are so appreciative of all the volunteer support we receive throughout the year.”
To keep the Mardi Gras bead recycling year-long momentum growing, ArcGNO has placed permanent recycle bins around the city.
“We have already sorted, banded and repacked thousands of pounds of throws that can now be sold, and the process will continue right up until Mardi Gras 2020,” said Dr. Sauer.