By Lisa Shrewsberry
Not every day does a writer get to pen the words poker and church together in the same sentence and get away with it. To promote Saturday’s Living Waters Baptist Church ninth annual Poker Run to benefit Hospice of Southern West Virginia, it also couldn’t be for a higher purpose.
At the Linda K. Epling Stadium parking lot this weekend, car show entries will file in and bikes will rumble for motor and motorcycle enthusiasts to enjoy a shared interest, but primarily to keep a non-profit program well funded for locals with life-limiting illnesses.
Organizer Kitty Gunnoe says you don’t need to ride a motorcycle or to show a car to have fun at the event. For non-riders, there will be plenty of festival-style food, kids’ activities, car browsing and fellowship.
A traditional poker run involves a modest entry fee for riders ($10, in this case) to travel a scenic route and collect playing cards at certain stops to complete their hand. The winning hand takes the sponsored $500 prize, car show winners will receive $100 for first place, and $50 each for second and third place entries, with the day’s earnings going to charity.
With Living Waters Baptist Church’s run, there is only one stop on the route to Meadow Bridge and back. All participants, riding and not, play a part in raising over $10,000 to support Hospice of Southern West Virginia services.
The day culminates with an auction, including but not limited to the customary used car donated by Ramey Automotive to boost proceeds. This year, bidders will vie for a 2007 Hyundai Electra with experience— 125,000 miles with the potential for many more— the ninth such car Ramey Automotive has donated to support Living Water’s endeavor.
Gunnoe, whose husband Mike Gunnoe is pastor of Living Waters, and her team including Bruce Meadows, owner of Hoodlum Motorcycle Garage Inc. and sponsor of the cash prizes, canvas Raleigh County for the full year seeking donations of items to raise the bar on raising money for Hospice.
What’s most impressive to Hospice of Southern West Virginia as an organization is the church’s autonomy, freeing Hospice’s regular volunteers to work on their largest fundraiser of the year, along with supporting the daily operations and overall mission.
Groups who take the initiative to not only conceive, but to carry off ancillary fundraisers are a tremendous blessing to the non-profit, says Public Relations Director Josh Jones. Without them and others like them, the program couldn’t focus on patient care for trying to raise money. Theirs, he says, is a winning philanthropic formula.
“They take something they’re comfortable doing and put their focus on an organization they care about. Planning an event is an ordeal, and they do this all on their time. It makes us feel really special to receive the benefits of their efforts.”
Jones adds that it was a miracle Gunnoe’s crew reached an important milestone last year, exceeding the $10,000 goal despite a damaging derecho and a necessary rescheduling of the event.
Gunnoe describes another hallmark of a successful grassroots fundraising effort — an immovable resolve to make the best of a terrible situation … and keeping the faith.
“Rocco Massey, CEO of Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, paid for anything his employees wanted to eat the day after the 2012 storm from the food we had prepared, so we sold it all at the hospital.”
The event rescheduled to August, adding in the $2,000 worth of food sold in July, totaled $10,250, the largest amount the church had raised in almost 10 storm-free years of the event. For Gunnoe, it was confirmation that her group was doing the right thing in sticking with what they knew and in having the patience to improve with each experience.
“Everybody has been touched by Hospice at some point and we want to continue to support what they do,” she says, particularly reflective in preparing for the 2013 Poker Run.
One of her parishioners who four years ago worked side-by-side serving food for the event had leukemia. Dora Williams was among the many faithful volunteers helping the church scoop barbecue onto buns and capping hot-dogs with homemade slaw for hungry riders.
In 2012, after Williams suffered another bout with the disease, she was served before her passing by the very organization she sought to help.
“She was the strongest, most amazing person,” Gunnoe remembers. “She knew when she was working to raise money for Hospice that she had leukemia. Dora never lost faith.”
According to Jones, Williams’ story and those like them are what keep businesses, organizations and individuals searching for meaningful ways to contribute.
Another summer fundraiser organized for Hospice by the Sewell Mountain Sailing Association is the annual Summersville Lake Hospice Regatta. The Regatta was conceived, says Jones, to honor loved ones lost by members of the group and who were helped by Hospice. Aug. 24-25 will be the third year for the successful event that last year brought in $11,000.
Another individual, Shirley Snuffer, organizes annual gospel sings in partnership with the regional Christian musicians and has raised thousands of dollars throughout the years, all of which she has donated to Hospice.
Jones indicates these are just a few examples of how a person or group can leverage their hobbies and interests and rally volunteers for the greater good.
“We can’t sustain our mission if we put all of our volunteers’ efforts into fundraisers. We cherish these groups and individuals who put their time and efforts into helping us. That gives us more time to take care of our patients. It’s hard to get people to give right now and what these groups are able to achieve is quite impressive.”
For more information on these events, visit www.hospiceofsouthernwv.org
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