Hundreds filled the Pine Bluff Convention Center over the weekend to see the Sahara Shrine Circus, which put on four shows filled with clowns, live animals and more.

Sahara Shrine Potentate Jerry Weilacher said he is grateful that the organization is still able to hold the event each year, even though it represents just a small part of what the Shriners do for the community.

“Community fellowship. We, as an organization, think that our community needs this kind of comradery to help bring us together,” Weilacher said. “We can all enjoy it. We can enjoy the clowns and the circus as a whole.”

Weilacher said planning for this year’s circus was a success for the Sahara Shrine.

“We have used the same circus every year,” he said. “The only issue we had that is different than the past was with getting big animals. There is so much with the pushback of getting big animals. It is not from us, it is with getting them across state lines. We see it as a dying factor, even communicating with the circus, they are saying it is just getting more and more difficult.”

In addition to the circus, the Sahara Shrine has numerous other events coming up.

“We just had a dinner theater, so you will see us holding several dinner theaters at the Shrine,” Weilacher said. “Our next one will be a murder mystery, then, after that, we will have another musical. We will also have a couple of bands. We have a local band that performs music from the 80’s. As far as community events, those are the things we are doing.”

Weilacher said the public can expect to see the Shriners involved with more parades in the near future as well. The Sahara Shrine has also been working on upgrading their facilities to help make them more marketable for events.

“One of the ways we pay our bills is to rent, so we felt it was time to renovate in order to make ourselves more rentable,” Weilacher said. “This was all about making the upgrades with new floors, paint and anything we can do to make it a better place.”

With the efforts being put into revitalizing downtown Pine Bluff, the Sahara Shrine is yet another organization that is seeing more foot traffic walking through their doors.

Weilacher also spoke about how the Shriners help kids in need.

“I think, right now, we host anywhere to 20-28 kids at any given time where we pay for the child to go to the hospital,” Weilacher said. “We pay for their rooms, we pay everything we can to make sure the parents aren’t out anything, and the children get the care that they need.”

While foot traffic has improved, the Sahara Shriners are looking for more patients that they can help with medical expenses.

“We need more patients,” Weilacher said. “We are at a point now where if you know somebody who has a cleft lip, burns or any kind of deformities on their body, bring them here. Shriners are willing to help them and to help reduce that fear that parents have about how they are going to be able to do this. We can make that happen. Just bring them.”

The Shriners make it easy to contact them when a child is in need of assistance.

“Just call the Shrine office or any Shriner that you see at any given time, stop them and ask them,” Weilacher said. “That Shriner will give you a card and will make sure you get in contact with our office.”

The Sahara Shrine can be contacted at (870) 534-3392. They are located at 820 South Main Street, in Pine Bluff.