Fun helps 'Bail Out the Bayou'

City workers wanted to have fun downtown and help Katrina victims.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Six-year-old Christopher Valentine was just 4 when his mother took him to New Orleans, but he remembers that people on the brightly colored parade floats threw him beads and candy.
His mother, Jennifer, and her sister, Tanisha Crump, love New Orleans, and they have traveled there several times for Mardi Gras. So they were eager to help when city workers organized "Bail Out the Bayou" downtown as a way to raise money for Gulf Coast hurricane victims.
City workers wanted to have fun downtown and help Katrina victims, especially civil servants in New Orleans who continue to work there.
The festivities
A parade, activities for children, music and special events at downtown restaurants and other businesses took place Friday. Several downtown restaurants had Cajun and Louisiana items on the menu, and there was live entertainment at several locations.
The staff of the Children's Museum of the Valley sponsored a coloring contest and provided materials for children to make Mardi Gras masks.
City workers and business owners collected teddy bears that will be given to children in evacuation shelters. Each has a tag tied with a brightly colored ribbon reading: "Here's a big bear hug for you from Youngstown, Ohio."
Alaya Chavers, 6, and her younger sister, Kayln, donated two Care Bears. Their mother, Tiffany Chavers of Youngstown is the assistant to the city parks director and works at city hall.
Alaya said she learned about Hurricane Katrina in her first-grade class at E.J. Blott Elementary. The people need food, clothes and a place to live, she said.
Youngstown Connection performed several song and dance numbers.
Bail Out the Bayou continues today at Jolly Joe's Sports Bar & amp; Restaurant, 3718 Sheridan Road in the city's Brownlee Woods section on the South Side.
'We love New Orleans'
Valentine and Crump are part of a group of eight Youngstown women who have traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras for about five years. They said they have made friends there over the years, and there are some they have not heard from since Hurricane Katrina went through.
The women, several of whom work at the Youngstown Police Department's 911 center, were painting children's faces, selling T-shirts, Mardi Gras beads and masks on West Federal Street.
"We love New Orleans," Valentine said. "We watched the news and saw all the places we'd been. Signs from restaurants where we ate were floating down the street. But I know the residents of New Orleans, and they will still have Mardi Gras even if the city isn't rebuilt yet."
Crump said the Mardi Gras beads she was selling were actually from New Orleans. People on Mardi Gras floats throw candy and beads into the crowds along the parade route.
In front of Crump and Valentine were a couple dressed like a hot dog and a bottle of soda. Every time beads were thrown, the people in costume kept bumping into them.
Although her suitcases full of Mardi Gras beads have sentimental value, Valentine didn't hesitate to part with them for a good cause.
"New Orleans is my favorite city, and I have things from New Orleans all over my house," she said. "I look at them now, and it makes me sad. I don't have a lot of money to give, but I have a lot of beads."

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