COLUMBIA — The shuffling of cards and clicking of chips can just be heard over the country music playing in the background. Laughter and knocks on the table fill the room.
The Missouri Hepatitis C Alliance hosted its weekly Texas Hold 'em tournament Thursday evening at Pem's Place in south Columbia, raising $225 by the end of the night.
For more information about Missouri Hepatitis C Alliance, visit mohepc.org
The group's main priorities include educating and spreading awareness about Hepatitis C while encouraging people to get tested. Randall "Randy" Smith, a member of the group's board of directors, recognizes the importance of this awareness.
"It's all about preventing the spread of disease through education and testing," Smith said. "You can treat it. The earlier the better."
The Texas Hold 'em tournament has been bringing poker lovers together now for two years, helping the group raise money while helping a few lucky individuals win some of their own.
"The more money we raise, the more people we can test," Smith said, adding that Missouri Hepatitis C Alliance raises about $1,000 a month through the Thursday poker tournaments.
Hepatitis C is a virus contracted through blood-on-blood contact that infects and damages the liver. Approximately 5 million Americans have been infected with the Hepatitis C virus.
One of those living with the Hepatitis C virus is Ellen Kackley, also a member on the board of directors. Kackley contracted the disease through blood transfusions she received after a car accident in 1967. She wasn't officially diagnosed until 1998. After living with the symptoms for 14 years, Kackley continues to wait for new, effective medicine.
"I feel like my life has been on hold for so long," she said. "I don't feel good enough to do things. I don't have the energy."
As she continues to wait, she uses her time to the best of her ability.
"You meet some really nice people here," she said. "I just really enjoy the company. It makes me very happy to see how much money we made and how much good it's doing."
On Thursday night, Kackley was joined by 17 others working to help those in need. Experience was not necessary to help out the charity.
Joy Pinell, a 1990 MU graduate who currently lives in Oakland, Calif., is visiting friends in Columbia while on vacation. Despite having never played Texas Hold 'em, she decided to tag along to play with her friend Jim Williams, another member of the group's board.
"I figured I'd come and play and donate toward charity," Pinell said. "The people were helpful and they taught me how to play Texas Hold 'em in a relaxed atmosphere."
While Pinell was just starting out, Cole Duvall of Auxvasse is a regular at the weekly tournaments and has been playing poker for 35 years.
"It's one of the few things I do for personal enjoyment," Duvall said. "I enjoy the people, the interactions, the friendly atmosphere."
Across the table from Duvall sits a man in an Arkansas Razorbacks hat with sunglasses resting on the bill. He has headphones in his ears to drown out the music in the background, that is, until his battery dies.
For Ron Kennedy, the weekly tournaments provide a time for him to practice his Texas Hold 'em skills during what he calls "inexpensive fun."
"I'm trying to get to the World Series of Poker," Kennedy said. "In order to do that, I have to practice."
Kennedy has been wanting to get to the World Series of Poker since he began playing and would like to be there next year. Despite playing poker for 25 to 30 years, he has only been playing Texas Hold 'em for the past three to four years.
"It keeps my mind going," Kennedy said. "I'm 58 years old and I don't want my mind to go away."
Pem's Place will be closing for business at the end of the week, and the tournaments will move to the Days Inn Conference Center on I-70 Drive Southwest beginning July 5.