A year after being canceled due to COVID-19, the Butler Chain Poker Run came back bigger than ever to raise money for One Heart for Women and Children.
It’s been well over a year since COVID-19 swept in and put the lives of everyone in a standstill, but at the 15th Annual Butler Chain Poker Run, things feel a lot more normal.
Over at that red DJ tent, Rick Taylor — the man who has put the event on year after year — plays tunes while folks gather in Windermere for a time of celebration on this rainy Saturday afternoon. There’s food, a silent auction and conversation that was missing last year after the event was canceled due to the pandemic.
And in the middle of everyone stands Stephanie Bowman, whose gift of gab draws people in for good conversation. For Bowman — the founder of One Heart for Women and Children — this poker run is helping raise money and awareness for her nonprofit that serves individuals who are homeless or in times of transition by helping them meet their most essential needs.
“I am so grateful that we are having (this) and that we’re in a space where we can have it, and that the community is ready to come back to give freely for this cause,” Bowman said. “I believe that we will raise more money this year, more awareness will be raised, and we have more volunteers than ever.”
The premise Taylor had was based on the motorcycle poker runs where bikers would travel to bars or restaurants and get a playing card and piece of paper stamped.
Instead of motorcycles, participants would jump in their boats — after purchasing a $20 wristband — in the morning and hit up five different stops, which included four docks and Bird Island. At each stop, folks would grab a drink and an envelope with a card for each wristband bought — which Taylor saw as more practical than using paper on the water. It also added a bit of mystery to the game. For an extra $5, they can get a sixth envelope.
“We have people who open up the envelopes and make the hand, so they don’t know what they have,” Taylor said. “The payout is for first, second and third hand, best hand and worst hand. The prize the last four to five years has been $2,000, and then it goes down from there.”
BIGGER THAN EVER
When Taylor first started the poker run, things were much different than what they are now.
“I think I sold $20 a hand and then I said, ‘$10 a hand’ to just get the pot up, and I sold, like, 32 total,” Taylor said. “And you know I’m sitting there on my dock having a cigar and drinking a beer and gonna cook burgers when everybody gets back. They come back about four or five hours later — of course they had been drinking — and they’re all partying and they’re like, ‘This is the best thing ever.’
“The idea to me was, ‘Well, if they’re having that much fun, then it must be a pretty good idea,’” he said. “Then it got to be where I realized I couldn’t rely on my drinking friends to help me put this thing on.”
Bowman and One Heart entered the picture six years ago. Taylor was looking for a charity to help raise money for and happened to have a friend who knew Bowman.
“We had no idea what to expect our first year — absolutely no idea; we went in totally blindfolded and not a lot of expectation other than to raise a little bit of awareness and a little bit of money,” Bowman said. “And what we found was this incredible group of people — a couple of hundred of people — who wanted to rally around this cause.”
That first year as a part of the event saw One Heart bring in some volunteers to help, and they raised around $1,250. From there, things exploded as the most recent poker run — back in 2019 — helped the organization raise a whopping $10,000.
This year, One Heart has brought in between 25 and 30 raffle items for a silent auction, and all of the money is going to a specific cause this year: getting healthy food to people in need.
Before COVID, the biggest agenda item focused on education, but the pandemic changed things. Since March of last year, getting healthy food to more than 20,000 people a month has been an integral part of the charity’s work.
“So every $1 we can turn into 12 meals, and that is because of our partnerships,” Bowman said. “So the money that is being raised for this will not be going into administration — it will be going into our community program. If we raise $10,000, 10,000 people will be impacted with 12 meals.”
Based on the number of hands sold — Taylor said 416 had been sold, the largest ever — and the excitement surrounding the event, it’s easy to say that this is the biggest poker run yet, Taylor said. It will also help raise awareness for good cause, as well.
“I think if nothing else, One Heart’s job is to help share those stories so we can break the stigma (of homelessness),” Bowman said.
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