As Mardi Gras nears, Rex's Pro Bono Publico Foundation donates $740,000 to schools, nonprofits

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As the executive director for Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, Claudia Barker knows the fundraising challenges facing a nonprofit. With its $1.1 million budget, Edible Schoolyard — inspired by chef Alice Waters — works with five schools in the FirstLine charter school system to promote healthy diet and exercise options for New Orleans children.

“Any nonprofit in town is on a constant treadmill for funding, and we’re no different from that,” Barker said.

That’s why she was excited to accept for Edible Schoolyard a $10,000 grant Saturday from the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, an offshoot of the Krewe of Rex that supports New Orleans Public Schools and their support organizations. The foundation gave out a record total of $740,000 to 40 schools and groups at an event held in the Rex den on Claiborne Avenue.

This year’s total was the third consecutive year the foundation has given out more than $500,000, bringing their total amount of $2.4 million awarded since 2007. Along with these grants, PBPF reaffirmed its sponsorship of the nearby Taylor Playground, and vowed continued development of a pilot program to provide after-school academic and enrichment programs around New Orleans.

The largest check, $50,000, went to Teach for America New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, which brought several teachers and their students for the event.

“I feel so proud to be a part of a community that is taking actions, both big and small, that are changing the lives of these students,” said Kira Orange Jones, executive director of Teach for America New Orleans-Louisiana Delta. “This effort would not be possible without the leadership of Pro Bono Publico Foundation.”

Rex officials Christy Brown and Dr. Stephen Hales emphasized Rex’s commitment to investing in New Orleans’ youth — especially after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city’s already fragile education system.

“One thing that makes me smile is when I look at the future of this city,” Brown said. “This has become a new tradition at Rex.”

Hales lauded what he saw as a youth movement in the city, reminiscent of the youthful energy that fueled Rex in its early days in starting the Mardi Gras tradition: “You share with them that audaciousness to set goals for yourself and to go out and achieve them.”

Representing both Edible Schoolyard and FirstLine, which also received a $30,000 grant, Claudia Barker was excited about putting their money to work.

The students love the program,” she says. “They love being in the garden. We do a lot of therapeutic work in the garden with the special-ed children and children who have behavioral challenges. Our work gives them an opportunity to shine and flourish and be leaders in ways that they may not normally be able to in the classroom.