The Beignets That Support An Important Cause

The chances are when you hear the word beignet (pronounced ben-yay) you might think of a trip to New Orleans, where the deep-fried dough topped with powdered sugar is part of the local culture. The delicacy was introduced by the French when they first colonized Louisiana in the 1600s and is now a must-try and part of most food tours in the southern city. 

In fact, if you visit the famous local Café Du Monde, you may be surprised to learn the only thing you can buy there are beignets, chicory coffee, and orange juice. The eatery is popular enough that you will often see a line of people waiting to get into the French Quarter store, no matter the weather. Therefore, it seems only natural, that in a city that has a festival for many things, including jazz, food, and Mardi Gras, amongst many other events, a beignet festival should be in the mix (per New Orleans). 

Therefore, Amy and Sherwood Collins decided it was time that New Orleans got its Beignet Festival (via Beignet Fest). And while their love of the beignet might have been one of the driving forces behind starting the event, it actually has a greater cause.

For the love of beignets and the community

Unlike many New Orleans festivals, the Beignet Festival held a greater meaning than just the love of fried dough for the Collins' (per Beignet Fest). When their 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, they discovered that the crescent city lacked many of the resources that could help him. They also discovered that they weren't alone as parents who needed support for those affected by the condition. Hence, Beignet Fest and the Beignet Festival Foundation were born. Proceeds from the festival go towards grants for services for those on the spectrum and their caregivers.

Sherwood Collins, the executive director, and producer of the Beignet Fest told Mashed the foundation has helped with a range of services, including online groups arranged for children diagnosed with autism to socialize, which is made possible through the Autism Society of Greater New Orleans. They have also collaborated with different organizations in 2020, such as Families Helping Families NOLA and Touchstone ABA, in order to set up online training sessions for parents and caregivers of children on the spectrum, according to Collins. And in 2021, they supported Families Helping Families chapters that had been impacted by Hurricane Ida.

More recently Mr. Collins said that the Foundation helped find a location for a summer camp for kids on the spectrum and made a grant of $5,000 to supply activities for the kids, including a bounce house, games, arts and crafts supplies, and more games.

The festival fare and when to go

The festival grounds in New Orleans City Park hosted the 2022 Beignet Fest on September 24th. Over 9,000 people endured the heat and were able to support the festival to try out a range of beignet flavors including jerk chicken, crawfish, raspberry, and praline beignets (via Beignet Fest). Each year features a lineup of musicians on two stages — this year featured the popular New Orleans Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Water Seed, amongst many others, as per their website. Keep in mind, the event also catered to kids by giving them a select number of stages to also enjoy live music. Unfortunately, the festival was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic, but the foundation still continued with its work supporting the autism community (per Beignet Fest).

As awareness about the festival grows, so do the crowds. With this year's festival just having passed, Mr. Collins told Mashed that he was, "overwhelmed with gratitude for all those who helped make the 2022 Beignet Fest a success." Luckily, they were already able to give back $80,000 in grants to the community. "The adage is true: It truly takes a village," he added.