OWATONNA — While New Orleans celebrated “Fat Tuesday” with the grand finale of this year’s Mardi Gras season, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Owatonna didn’t let the day pass without a party of its own: the 13th annual Mardi Gras Marketplace.
At the Sacred Heart Church parish center Tuesday, students in grades seven and eight manned booths of their own creation as St. Mary’s younger students played games and bought food using tickets they’d purchased Monday for 50 cents each, said Chris Smith, who teaches junior high students at St. Mary’s. The games and food items ranged in cost from one ticket to four tickets.
By forming a business and selling products or services, students experience hands-on learning, he said. They create flyers to “hook” customers, and they also learn “presentation” is paramount.
“How your booth looks, and how friendly you are, makes a huge difference,” he said.
Often, competing booths will sell the same — or a very similar product — and one will get substantially more business.
Smith also posts in his classroom the ideas that have been the best sellers for the past eight years, so students know some possibilities, he said.
“Every year is a little bit different, and it makes for an exciting day," he said.
The money raised each year is donated to a local, national, or international charity, he said. This year, the funds are earmarked for orphans in Tanzania.
“We have been talking about solidarity in class and how everyone is your brother,” even those on another continent, he said.
Secondly, a former St. Mary’s teacher is leaving soon for a mission in Tanzania, providing a local connection.
Though her mission is with a Lutheran organization, donating some of Tuesday’s money to her efforts — the rest is for the orphans Sacred Heart supports through the “Caring Hands for Tanzania” initiative — makes this an “ecumenical opportunity,” he said. It illustrates that Catholics and Lutherans are all part of the same “global family.”
The marketplace raised roughly $500 during the inaugural edition, but since then, the yearly average has increased to approximately $1,500, with a high-water mark of $2,600, Smith said.
“All that money really adds up over the years,” said Smith.
The event also allows teachers to delve into the history of “Fat Tuesday” and Lent before everyone at St. Mary’s attends Mass together on Ash Wednesday the following day, he said.
“I think kids understand it better,” he said.
Most of the booths were devoted to food, which ranged from nachos and tacos-in-a-bag to cookie dough and cake pops, but there were some activities, as well, like a ping pong bounce planned and conducted by Haley Meiners, Elizabeth Prostrollo, and Abby Medow. Students had to bounce ping pong balls into cups to win various prizes.
Depending on their age, students had to stand farther and farther back from their goals, Meiners said. Students could toss one, three, or five balls at a cost of one, two, or three tickets, respectively, with a ball in the closest row of cups earning them a yellow stress ball, a ball in the back rows winning a chocolate chip cookie bar, and even a miss still getting a small, colorful rubber hand.
Meiners, who baked the bars herself, enjoyed the day because of the interactions with her fellow students — of all ages — and the opportunity to experience business first-hand, rather than as a passive listener to a lecture, she said.
“It’s kind of like a first job,” said Meiners.
Other than the bars, the other prizes were purchased from Amazon, Prostrollo said. Prostrollo and Medow believed those items — as well as the booth’s vibrant color scheme — would appeal even to the youngest students, ensuring mass participation.
“Everyone always looks forward to this,” Medow said. “It brings the school together.”
“It’s a good experience,” said Meiners, a seventh grader. “I’m glad I can do it again next year.”
Katie Sager made nearly 50 chocolate-covered strawberries Monday, which she then placed in packages of two each for the market, she said. Chocolate-covered strawberries “are really popular, so I thought it would be good.”
Even better, she personally doesn’t care for chocolate-covered strawberries, so she knew she wouldn’t be tempted to eat too many of them instead of selling them, she said. Monday was the first time she’d ever made them, and “it was actually really fun.”
Strawberries were also on the mind of Lincoln Maher, who was part of a duo making strawberry-banana smoothies Tuesday, which were being sold almost as fast as he could make them. The operation required two massive bags of strawberries and over 40 bananas.
“I was actually drinking one at home, and I thought, ‘We could do this,’” he said. “It’s a simple idea, and they taste pretty good.”
Kathleen Segna, St. Mary’s principal, said the marketplace “sparks creativity” in students, and “the younger kids really look forward to this.”
It also provides “a good sense of community,” she added. Furthermore, because of the charitable component, it also “helps other communities.”