DECATUR — For 24 years now, downtown Decatur bars and restaurants have been hosting their annual Mardi Gras celebrations, but for the past seven years it’s been more than just a good time. Saturday’s Mardis Gras celebrations downtown will once again serve as fundraisers for Central Illinois Special Olympics.

“We knew several of the bar owners downtown, and it was an opportunity to associate our organization with the event,” said Joanie Keyes, the area director for Special Olympics. “Everyone we spoke to was very open to us sending our volunteers to hand out beads and collect donations. They’ve all been very generous.”

Participating restaurants and bars include Doherty’s Pub and Pins, Bijou, Paco’s Sol Bistro, Lincoln Square Lounge, Robbies Grille, Main Place Bar & Grill, Pastabilities, Katz and Sloans, all of which will begin their parties at 5 p.m., continuing until regular closing time. The Matt Carter Band will be performing at Paco’s, and special menus and drink specials will be held at most of the participating businesses.

“We’ll be doing Zydeco music and a special Louisiana menu,” said Robbies owner Rodney Powell, who organizes the yearly party. “We’ll be serving things like Crawfish etoufee, dirty rice, bourbon steaks and gumbo. We’ll also have our signature cocktail for this event, the ‘R.I.P.’ That’s ‘Robbies Ideal Paradise,’ with a portion of each sale going to Special Olympics.”

Powell was instrumental in the event’s initial partnership with the local chapter of Special Olympics, which covers Macon, Logan, Moultrie and Christian counties.

“It’s something that I’ve always participated with and felt strongly about,” he said. “The money stays local and helps this organization organize sporting events each year.”

Athletes from Special Olympics will be on hand at each participating party venue, handing out beads and gathering donations. In the past two years, Keyes said the partnership has raised about $5,000 for the organization — shy of larger annual fundraisers such as the upcoming “polar plunge,” but still valuable as a way to remind locals of the presence of Special Olympics.

“It provides us with some community awareness,” she said. “Our volunteers are there as public ambassadors, stepping out of their roles as athletes to become fundraisers. And this year we will also be having a group of girl’s soccer players from Meridian High School volunteering at the event as well.”

Donating $5 or more to the organization will earn party-goers an entry into a drawing for a large basket of Special Olympics gear and gift cards to local restaurants. Keyes is confident that revelers will give generously as always to the organization, which is entirely dependent on such local donations.

“I’m really proud to work for the Special Olympics,” she said. “It’s an organization that is totally about our athletes with disabilities. All the money we raise gives them a chance to compete and be their best.”|421-7973

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