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Mardi Gras, Anyone?

Annual social event raises money for Chamber programs, scholarships.

Break out the feather masks, colored beads and poker faces, it’s time for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mardi Gras and Casino Night.

The annual fund raiser, which contributes to Chamber programs and scholarship funds, began nine years ago, said Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy-jo Manney.

“Mardi Gras is really just an excuse for us to have a party,” Manney said. Scheduled for Friday, Feb. 16, the event is always planned for the Friday before the real Mardi Gras and the decorations are done in green, gold and purple to match the yearly party in New Orleans.

“The tackier, the better,” Manney laughed.

Patrons are invited to gamble the night away using fake money, Manney said, and can trade in their ‘winnings’ at the end of the night for prizes. Those who wish to take something a little more substantial home can participate in the silent and live auctions, which run throughout the evening.

“We’re trying something a little different this year,” said Jeff Scannell, chair of the community affairs committee for the Chamber. Instead of auctioning off signed items from athletes or artists, the Chamber has signed up with Charity Sports Auction, a New York City-based group, that sells items signed by actors or other celebrities.

If the Chamber sells an item for more than what it purchased the item for, the extra money is considered profit and will be contributed to the Chamber’s scholarship fund, Scannell said.

“One item we have this year is an MVP autographed helmet from Joe Heisman,” he said.

MANY MEMBERS of the Chamber’s Board of Directors contribute goods from their own businesses or interests, including one member who will come into the winner’s house and cook a gourmet dinner for eight, including wine and dessert, Scannell said. Another member is offering an afternoon of golf at the Springfield Country Club.

Another crowd favorite is the Taste of Springfield, included in the $55 admission, said Tammy Shapiro, chair of the event for the past nine years.

Restaurants like Red Hot and Blue, Houlihans and the Austin Grille will return this year, Shapiro said, joined by the Caribou Coffee location in Lorton, a newcomer to the event which will be providing a coffee bar.

“We’ll have our DJ and dancing and everyone gets beads when they walk through the door,” Shapiro said. “At the end of the night, we’ll crown the king and queen. We try to make it as festive as possible.”

Between ticket sales and auction profits, the event raise over $7,000 last year, Scannell said.

Shapiro is confident this year will be just as successful.

“I’ve already doubled what I’ve sold in tickets this year from years past,” she said.

Mardi Gras promises to have “something for everyone,” Manney said.

“It’s great if you enjoy a Friday evening out,” she said. “Some people don’t gamble but love the auction or the dancing. Some come for the food, Some will come just for the games and play because it’s not their money.”