BENTON -- No matter what cards you draw, it will be a poker hand you can feel good about.
The Bikers Helping Veterans Poker Run this Sunday isn't so much about the game itself as making life a little better for residents of the Missouri Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau, according to Tom McGowan and Cheri Parsons of T&C Motorcycle Parts in Benton, coordinators for the event.
"We give all the money to the Veterans Home. We have a fund up there called the Bikers Fund. All money goes to that fund -- every penny. It's used for their individual needs," said McGowan. "All the government does is give them a place to stay: a room, meals and medicine. Everything else they need -- a TV, DVD player, a roll of stamps -- comes from outside donations."
On or around the Dec. 1, the Veterans Home staff distributes a form for residents to submit their wish list, McGowan explained. These wish lists are then forwarded to the bikers who wait until after Christmas to purchase the items. This is to make sure veterans don't receive the same items as Christmas gifts from family or friends and also to take advantage of post-
Christmas sales. "We get the stuff cheaper which makes the dollars go further," McGowan said.
Parsons said the first fundraising event by the bikers was held in December 2001.
"I think we had about 10 bikes and we raised $175," she recalled.
The Veteran Home's administrator at the time then asked if they would consider holding their event in April or May as many of the veterans are busy with family around the holidays.
After establishing a large annual poker run event in May, the bikers added the smaller second annual event in October.
Between that first Christmas party, the two annual poker runs and a fundraising calendar sold each year, the bikers have raised nearly $35,000 for veterans in the home over the last seven years. "And we don't take a dime for any expenditures," McGowan said.
In addition to funding the purchase of items from veterans' wish lists, the fund has also occasionally paid for a few special events for the veterans.
"We recently paid for 16 veterans to go to the Merle Haggard concert," McGowan said. Currently the bikers are trying to raise an extra $2,400 to pay for three veterans to go to Washington, D.C., on the next Honor Tour to visit the National World War II Memorial.
The cost for Sunday's poker run is $15. Participants will sign up for event at Minors Harley Davidson, 2100 East Outer Road East in Scott City, beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday with the cutoff for the last bike out at noon.
Upon signing up, they will receive directions to five locations to visit before heading to Schindler's Tavern in New Hamburg.
"They'll get a stamp at each of these places and at Schindler's they'll get their cards," McGowan said.
Participants must arrive at Schindler's by 4 p.m. to win. Each will draw five cards to see who has the best straight poker hand -- no wild cards, no additional cards -- for a $100 prize and the worst hand for a $50 prize.
There will also be food for participants at Schindler's cooked by Danny Kern, a 50/50 drawing and door prizes.
Donated items and gift certificates will also be available through $2 tickets for a drawing to choose items off a table and an auction for more valuable items.
"This is open for anybody who wants to support a veteran," McGowan said.
Those who would like to contribute to the Biker Fund directly without participating in an event are always welcome to do so, McGowan added, by sending their check to the Missouri Veterans Home, 2400 Veterans Memorial Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO 65701 and writing "Biker Fund" in the memo line.
"Any veteran in that home, he can use this fund," McGowan said. "The guys really appreciate it."