Forty years of fungi fun

Mardi Gras event returns Memorial Day weekend

MAGIC JESTER Stilt walker Chiquy Boom makes an appearance at the Mushroom Mardi Gras in 2018. File photo

What started as a fundraiser for the fire department has now become the second largest festival in Santa Clara County.

Forty years in, the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras attracts around 65,000 people over two days and hands out $60,000 in scholarships to high school seniors.

The event returns Memorial Day weekend, May 25-26, in downtown Morgan Hill.

This year’s event features two food courts and more than 36 food vendors, according to Executive Director Sunday Minnich. The star of the festival will be on full display: Dishes include mushroom burgers, mushroom quesadillas, stuffed mushrooms, deep fried mushrooms, mushroom cheesesteak sandwich and more.

An artists’ area that made its debut last year returns, featuring handmade arts and crafts. The area has proven successful, Minnich said, and vendor spaces have sold out.

New this year is the Amateur Blended Burger Cooking Contest. The top four chefs will compete at the festival on May 25, 11:30am-12:30pm in the Community and Cultural Center’s Hiram Morgan Hill Room. The winner will receive a ticket to attend the World Food Championships in Dallas, Texas in October.

Also new this year is the Baby Feet Rest Area, sponsored by Saint Louise Regional Hospital, where mothers can feed and change their babies.

Live entertainment at the Morgan Hill Amphitheater is also on tap, featuring headliner Uptown Funk, a Bruno Mars tribute.

In 2018, in addition to the $60,000 in scholarships for Morgan Hill Unified School District seniors, the record-breaking crowds and revenues allowed the festival to hand out $7,500 in grants to middle and elementary schools, as well as $22,000 to school groups and local organizations.

“Our goal is to raise as much as we did last year to continue increasing our scholarships and donations,” Minnich said. “A large part of our success is due to sponsorships as well. Sponsors also help us keep the festival free admission for all family income levels to enjoy.”

Minnich said volunteers are also critical to the festival’s success, with about 300 needed to put on the event. More volunteers are still sought. Those interested can contact the festival office at [email protected]

Forty years ago, when the Morgan Hill Fire Department was struggling to find the funds to update its aging equipment, then-Fire Chief Brad Spencer and the department hosted various fundraisers to try to raise money. Yet, the funds raised were not enough to meet the needs of the department.

After getting inspiration from the Great Dickens Fair in the North Bay, Spencer, along with Ed Lazzarini and Hill Country owner Irv Perlitch, put on the first Mushroom Mardi Gras in October 1980, which netted a profit of $400,000. Those funds were divided between non-profit organizations and new fire equipment.

The festival was held at various locations in Morgan Hill before moving to its current location downtown 15 years ago.

For a complete schedule of events, visit www.mhmmg.org.

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