If you had fun on the River Walk with other revelers Monday evening or in La Villita with friends Tuesday night, you can feel good about that. The money you spend at most Fiesta events on food, drink, rides, and glow sticks goes to feed, shelter, and care for others in San Antonio all year long.

The 10-day “party with a purpose” contributes millions of dollars in economic impact annually to San Antonio in the form of jobs and sales taxes, but also to local charities, both big and small.

In 2016, Fiesta contributed $340.1 million in sales to the local economy, supported 3,464 full-time local jobs, and provided $206.3 million in total economic impact to the area. The most recent study on Fiesta, completed for the Fiesta San Antonio Commission every 10 years by the UTSA Institute for Economic Development, described its impact as “enormous.”

Much of the charitable giving that each April’s citywide celebration generates starts with the Fiesta San Antonio Commission. But it doesn’t end there.

This year, the nonprofit Fiesta Commission allocated $390,000 to organizations producing Fiesta events, mostly the parades, said Amy Shaw, executive director of the commission. The money comes from membership dues, retail sales at the Fiesta Store, and corporate sponsorships. The Fiesta carnival is another major source of revenue.

As the central planning hub for all official Fiesta events, the commission also supports more than 100 smaller local nonprofits, like Scout troops and civic clubs, by donating street chair sales for the Fiesta Flambeau and Battle of Flowers parades.

Attendees sit on risers overlooking the parade air Maverick Park. Photo by Scott Ball.
Parade watchers sit on risers overlooking the Battle of Flowers parade at Maverick Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Texas Cavaliers River Parade Marshal Clyde Johnson said fundraising began the day after last year’s parade for the group’s charitable contribution of $1.51 million announced at the start of the parade on Monday.

In addition to individual contributions and corporate sponsorships that he and the other 600 Cavaliers members solicited, ticket sales from the sold-out parade’s 19,000 seats also generated funds that the group donated to 60 children’s charities, including ChildSafe, Snack Pak 4 Kids, and the DoSeum.

As parade marshal, Johnson selected the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Foundation as beneficiary of the Cavaliers’ largest gift: a check for $561,740.

“It was absolutely amazing for us,” said Terry Kyle, vice president of the hospital foundation. “The funds are going to be used for a heart program and heart center that will be coming soon.”

In 2017, the Cavaliers made a similar gift to The Winston School. Since 1989, the group has handed out more than$5 million in total charitable gifts.

The nonprofit El Rey Feo Foundation requires a candidate for Fiesta’s El Rey Feo crown to raise at least $250,000 before he can even qualify for the royal title. This year’s “ugly king,” Kenneth Flores, brought in more than $275,000.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) shakes hands with Rey Feo LXX Ken Flores. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The money the foundation collects every year, along with contributions from its Rey Feo Consejo Foundation, goes to fund 150 renewable college scholarships of $2,000 each.

Flores’ daughter, Ariana, who served as Reina de la Feria de las Flores, also raised $72,000 for the Tom Morton Sandoval LULAC Parent/Child Scholarship Program at Alamo Colleges. And Angela Garcia, as La Reina Linda, sponsored in a partnership between Lo Bello Women’s Association and the El Rey Feo Foundation, raised more than $50,000 for scholarships.

Tom Tamez, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) No. 2, which started the Rey Feo tradition in 1945, said scholarship funds go to students of every ethnicity and level of financial need. But a majority of scholars are first-generation college students, with many belonging to a single-parent, low-income household.

For the other 100 or so official Fiesta event organizers, fundraising is at the core of year-round planning, and budgeting, efforts.

Of the $1.5 million netted annually at NIOSA (Night in Old San Antonio), proceeds support restoration and preservation of historic properties and parks throughout the city and neighboring counties. The San Antonio Conservation Society also uses the funds for education and advocacy programs and projects.

Thousands of people crowd La Villita for NIOSA. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Thousands of people crowd La Villita for NIOSA in 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Tax records show that, in 2015, the Conservation Society made $433,312 in grants to its Foundation, Los Compadres (Mission Heritage Partners), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Alamo Colleges, Friends of Government Canyon, and the Karnes County Historical Society.

At MissionFest, the parishioners of Mission San Jose Church raised $80,000 at its 17th such official event last year – equal to what the church could make from at least 16 Sunday collection baskets.

“For the parish, this funding is super important,” said Andrew Anguiano, spokesperson for the event. “Despite our status as a [UNESCO] World Heritage site, the public doesn’t really know that the actual church is still maintained by the community and the people of the church are responsible for its interior maintenance and upkeep as well as the parish’s buildings outside of our compound.

“MissionFest is much more than a festival for us,” he said. “It keeps the 298-year-old church maintained and alive.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.