NEW ORLEANS (press release) – The Rex Organization lives by its Pro Bono Publico motto – for the good of the public – and in 2020, the nearly 150-year-old Mardi Gras krewe is demonstrating once again its abiding commitment to its motto and going partially green by using some recycled Mardi Gras throws. Rex is one of three Carnival organizations officially partnering with Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO), and its Mardi Gras Recycle Center, to encourage a greener Carnival.
For those not familiar with ArcGNO, the non-profit supports people with Down syndrome, autism, or some other intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) and has done so in the New Orleans-region for 66 years. These support services enable those with disabilities to live fuller and more autonomous lives place at home, in the workplace, and throughout the community. As part of its mission to generate employment opportunities those with IDD, ArcGNO operates three social enterprises, the largest enterprise being its Mardi Gras Recycle Center. The Center employs over 50 Arc participants full and part-time. So far this year, the center has collected more than 170 tons of Mardi Gras throws, which are being sorted, repackaged, and sold in its retail store. While Mardi Gras riders have been shopping at the store for years, this is the first time ArcGNO has signed formal agreements with krewes to provide them with special packages or requested throws for their members.
“This is a major business opportunity for the social enterprise and our employees,” notes Toni Wright, manager of the Mardi Gras Recycle Center. Those working in the recycling area of the business put in full days sorting, banding, and packaging beads in crawfish sacks. The process begins in a warehouse where oversized boxes holding more than 1000 pounds each are stored. One-by-one, the boxes are moved into a processing room where team members sort in various ways; throws are packaged by either size, color, specific krewes, or types, such as pearls or specialty beads. “It’s not just simply a process of grabbing beads and putting them in a bag, there is a detailed method,” Wright explains and adds, “I think the fact that we now have krewes ordering large quantities from us, is a sign that we’ve reached another level of community support for our mission.”
“The Rex Organization recognizes the importance of protecting the environment and is proud to join forces with ArcGNO in that effort by purchasing recycled beads to supplement throws during Mardi Gras,” explains Rex official Jim Rapier. The Rex organization specifically has ArcGNO packaging generic Rex Crown beads, Rex glass beads, medallion throws from the krewe’s iconic floats, like the Butterfly King and Boeuf Gras, and some Rex plush throws. “Pairing with ArcGNO, which has performed valuable work recycling beads in New Orleans for many years, makes perfect sense as part of the Rex Recycles effort,” says Rapier.
Krewe of Centurions president, Michael Bourgeois, also partnered with ArcGNO for the krewe’s 2020 ride. Bourgeois ordered 700 sacks of 48-inch and extra-long beads that his 350 krewe members can purchase for their ride. For Bourgeois, this purchase is part environmental awareness and wanting the krewe to do its part in the recycling effort, but there’s also a very personal reason for his interest. “My youngest son is autistic, and this is a way of supporting those who help care for those with disabilities; Arc’s work means something to my family.” The connection is not only the beads, but the Bourgeois family owns Metal Fusion and King Kooker, and the business has two long-time employees who are ArcGNO participants.
Personal ties are also what brought Alan Daigrepont to ArcGNO’s retail store seeking a cooperative agreement. As a past king of the Krewe of Excalibur and now an officer, Daigrepont met several Arc participants last year after the krewe gave the non-profit ten spots on a float so a few participants could experience a ride in a Mardi Gras parade. Daigrepont said the experience was so enjoyable that they are not only donating spots again, but the krewe is offering a special package using recycled beads and coupling that with other throws the krewe purchases for members. “We’ve found that over the past few years, the public really wants novelty items, especially throws that light up. What Arc is doing is helping us put together a package that has beads that are reasonably priced, so members can have both beads and new, krewe novelty throws that tend to be a little more expensive,” Daigrepont says.
Finding ways to expand employment opportunities for those with IDD through ArcGNO’s retail store is a top priority for the organization, and the krewe cooperative agreements are a huge step in that direction, according to the agency’s executive director, Dr. Stephen Sauer. Recycling throws has never been more popular as the agency continues to collect thousands of pounds every week. The result of those collections can be seen as the retail store is stocked with items while an adjoining warehouse is also full of products ready for sale. “We are extremely excited and grateful to community members who donate beads and volunteer to sort them with us, as well as to those krewes who are forging formal agreements to purchase from us,” Sauer says. More importantly, he adds, “The more partnerships we have, the more successful our whole recycling operation can be, and that allows us to continue hiring people with disabilities, and that is truly our goal.”