Mardi Gras party will benefit ARE

Posted: February 7, 2013

The Winchester Star

Winchester — Mardi Gras is coming a little early this year — at least Winchester’s version of it.

Revelers are in for a long night of partying when AIDS Response Effort’s seventh annual Mardi Gras benefit begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, said Mark Grim, fundraising chair. The party will last until midnight in the banquet room at Best Western Lee-Jackson, 711 Millwood Ave.

Tickets are $35 and cover dinner and the dance party that follows, he said.

The costume party is a night of food, contests, raffles, silent and live auctions, and tons of dancing, he said.

“No one can say it is a stuffy party,” Grim said with a laugh.

Thanks to this year’s theme, “Over the Rainbow,” the evening will be a hodgepodge of decorations and costumes, Grim said.

The idea for the theme came from a New Orleans Mardi Gras float, but Grim is expecting a mix of people dressed in formal attire and masks, fun Mardi Gras outfits, leprechauns, and characters from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“We weren’t thinking about ‘Wizard of Oz’ at the start, but it sort of grew into that over time,” he said.

Decorations will be a mix of Mardi Gras regalia and “Wizard of Oz touches” like ruby slippers and yellow brick road centerpieces, he said. Two cash bars will be decorated as the Ruby Slipper Bar and a Wicked Bar.

At the heart of all the fun was the desire to raise a maximum amount of money for AIDS Response Effort, said John Nagley, ARE executive director. About 250 people came to last year’s event, which raised $18,800.

ARE is the sole AIDS service organization for the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Page, Warren and Shenandoah counties, he said.

The organization helps people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS with medications and services and assistance with food, housing and transportation, Nagley said.

Currently the organization serves 120 people, and “about 60 percent live in Winchester,” he said.

As its popularity has increased, the party has outgrown previous venues, including Piccadilly’s Public House, he said.

A variety of the activities are aimed at helping raise funds for those services while still showing guests a good time, Nagley said.

Partygoers can buy tickets for a 50-50 raffle and for a lottery ticket tree, as well as a Vespa, and a cart of cheer (alcohol), Grim said. There also will be tip jars and lots of beads.

Among the live auction items are paintings by local artists, Eugene Smith and Kathy Chumley, a P. Buckley Moss print, and a Fender guitar signed by all of the members of Styx, Nagley said.

Silent auction items include four passes to Disney World, vacation packages at the Atlantis Resort in Reno, Nev., and a hotel in Key West, Fla., themed baskets, and quilts.

Dinner will be Cajun fare such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, and cornbread chili, said Amanda Unger, ARE’s board chair. Each table will also have its own Louisiana-style King Cake, and the person who finds the baby in the cake will be crowned the King of Mardi Gras at 9 p.m.

At the same time, the person with the best costume will be crowned queen, she said.

“Last year, a woman was the king and a man had the best costume and was queen,” she said.

After all the preliminary activities are over, the rest of the night will be spent dancing to music from DJ Kevin Miller, Grim said. The music is usually a mix of new pop favorites and New Orleans Mardi Gras-themed music.

Best Western Lee-Jackson is offering revelers a discounted room rate of $53 in case they have a bit much to drink, Unger said.

“We want everybody to be safe and drink responsibly,” she said.

AIDS Response Effort also provides free HIV testing from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at its office, 333 W. Cork St.


AIDS Response Effort’s seventh annual Mardi Gras benefit will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday in the banquet room at Best Western Lee-Jackson, 711 Millwood Ave. Tickets are $35.

To purchase tickets, go to

— Contact Laura McFarland at