There’s an old saying that home is where the heart is, but this year — thanks to COVID-19 — home is where the Carnival is. Many of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s major Mardi Gras parades have been canceled due to the pandemic, but Ruth’s Roots is leading the charge to keep the celebration going with the “Hancock House Floats” contest.

“People here were so sad over Nereids being canceled and Seahorse being canceled and all that stuff,” Ruth’s Roots founder Elise Deano said Monday, so she and Kay Kell started the Hancock House Floats Facebook page and contest, offering prizes to Hancock county residents for the best Mardi Gras decorations.

“Just like you can put your kids In the car and go look around at Christmas lights, you can drive around and look at the house ‘floats,’” Deano said.

“I love that everybody’s so excited about it,” Kell said. “People need something to be excited about right now. I think both Elise and I were watching what was happening in New Orleans and all the house floats they were doing there, and they were doing it to help all the artists there who are out of work.”

The cost to register is just a canned food item for the free food bank at Ruth’s Roots — the group will also be placing “blessing boxes” with food elsewhere around the county — and you can register from home via the Hancock House Floats Facebook page.

“It’s safe, anybody can do it, and you don’t have to decorate a lot,” Kell said. “It’s available for everybody. It’s a reason to get excited about celebrating Mardi Gras.”

Kell said she is decorating her “float” in honor of the late Carter Church and Yancy Pogue.

“They are the reason that I joined Seahorse and they’re the reason that I became queen,” Kell said. “When Yancy died, I was given a lot of their Mardi Gras decorations and a lot of their old costumes and I’m going to take advantage of that,” she said.

“We are partnering with The Arts, Hancock, to let us use some of the things they were given (from the estate) along with the building,” which the group recently acquired from the Church/Pogue estate.

Deano said there will be multiple prizes, including $500 for best decorated business float, $500 for best decorated house float, plus everyone who enters will be entered into drawings for multiple other prizes including a $250 pressure wash from Nettles Pressure Washing; $250 worth of tax preparation from Anchor Tax Services; and the “Sloth Experience” at Wild Acres wild animal sanctuary in Stone County.

Other sponsors are jumping on board every day, Deano said.

Artist She Velasquez with Ashyri Paint Box will also be painting the winning house and business on an oyster shell

“If you want to sponsor a prize, go out and buy gift cards from local restaurants and local stores, because they’re all having a tough time right now," Deano said. "That way the businesses are getting supported and also, hopefully, new customers will try out their businesses.”

The theme for your float is limited to your imagination.

“We’re going to set up a place so that if we have extra beads or decorations, people can get them if they need them,” Kell said. “It needs to be something that everybody can participate in.”

The deadline to register is Jan. 31.

“We want the judges to have time to go look at all the houses and plenty of time to decide,” Kell said.

Mardi Gras day this year will be on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

For more, go to the Hancock House Floats Facebook page.

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