Mah-jongg mania

A group of friends who gather weekly to play mah-jongg decided to let someone else win the game for a change.

The Hilton Head Island women -- Char Long, Johanna Galasso, Lee Burke, Ceil Meyers and Laraine Mitchell -- gather every Tuesday at Dolphin Head Golf Club for lunch and several hands of the ancient Chinese game. While playing, the women started talking about using their hobby as a way to give back to the community.

They brainstormed about who they wanted to help, and several organizations came to mind. They decided upon the nonprofit Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. The group offers care and support to patients near the end of life and their loved ones in Beaufort and Jasper counties. Long said each of the women has had an experience with a hospice group at some point, so the idea of helping a local hospice hit home.

"Because we enjoy the game so much and it is such a social game, we thought that we would like to put something together where we could make a difference," Long said.

In August the friends began planning a women's Mah-jongg Mania fundraiser. They secured a location at Palmetto Hall Plantation Club on Hilton Head. They solicited local businesses for donations and were overwhelmed with the generosity. Everything from theater tickets and dining certificates to mah-jongg sets were donated. Some items were used for prizes while others were sold in a mah-jongg boutique or used in a silent auction. All that hard work culminated with a Jan. 25 event, where the group of women raised $4,000 for Hospice Care through donations and ticket and merchandise sales.

"It was amazing how the combination of Hospice and mah-jongg just excited everyone," Burke said, adding that they were hoping for 25 guests and ended up with 100. They even had to turn people away because the venue could only hold 100 people.

The club's ballroom was decorated in the traditional Chinese colors of red and gold. Tables were adorned with mah-jongg tabletops and Chinese takeout boxes. Inside the boxes were all sorts of goodies for guests to take home, including Chinese New Year buttermints, Susan G. Komen breast cancer awareness bracelets, fortune cookies and, of course, chocolates that looked like mah-jongg tiles. The lunch menu included penne pasta, grilled chicken and for dessert -- chocolate mousse served in a martini glass.

"A lot of people supported us in this venture because they had had dealings with hospice before," Long said.

The women gave a check to Hospice Care of the Lowcountry executive director Jenny Brasington at their weekly meeting Feb. 1. And they are already planning another fundraiser to benefit hospice next year. Brasington couldn't say enough about what the group of women did for her organization.

"These ladies did a great job," she said. "We're going on our 29th year serving the community, and it is with the help of groups like this and the support of the community that allows us to continue our services."