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Best bet

The best bet
Put your money on the Red Cross for casino night fundraiser
By Catherine Godbey

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The Big Deal casino night will raise funds for the Red Cross on Saturday.

Organizers are doubling down on The Big Deal in hopes the community will ante up for the American Red Cross.

At stake: emergency contacts for military families, hotel rooms for fire victims and care kits for disaster survivors.

“The first Big Deal was so successful on a small scale, and we had such a great response that we wanted to make it bigger,” said Debbie Heard, executive director of the Morgan-Lawrence County chapter of the Red Cross.

The local chapter partnered with the Decatur Jaycees to host the event.

Roulette wheels will spin, slot machines will whirl and dealers will flip cards Saturday night, transforming Ingalls Harbor Pavilion into a miniature Las Vegas, with games, prizes and entertainment.

Featured games include blackjack, roulette, craps and slot machines, said Bryan Chapman of the Jaycees, a civic organization of young professionals.

Party-goers can exchange their chips for raffle tickets and a chance to win a one-night stay at The Westin Huntsville with a gift card to Bridge Street Town Centre or a one-night stay at the Shoals Marriott and a Billy Reid Clothing Co. gift card.

Along with a shift to a larger venue, this year’s The Big Deal will feature local artists painting one-of-a-kind works during the event, which will be auctioned off at the end of the evening. Artists include Robin Roberts, Lee Nabors, Arabelle Wilder, Jill Bronaugh, Mary Weeks, Patsy Roby, Tiffany Brightwell and Susan Estes.

“Not everyone likes gaming, we realize that. So instead of playing the games, people can watch these artists create the paintings and then buy them,” Heard said. “We are really trying to think of any way we can to raise money. We are using everything around us.”

Resourcefulness is key for the nonprofit organization that responded to dozens of fires, deadly tornadoes and faced financial and personnel cutbacks last year.

“The past decade, ever since 9/11, has been disastrous for our country,” Heard said. “We faced the terrorist attack, hurricanes, wild fires and most recently the tornadoes. Every weather event seems larger and more forceful.”

At every tragedy, whether it affects thousands of people or one family, the Red Cross, when called, responds.

“The Red Cross plays a vital role in helping people in our community when they need help the most, and the Jaycess are honored to be able to help that effort,” Chapman said.

After the April 27 tornadoes, volunteers spent three weeks gathering debris and distributing food and water. An integrated team from Red Cross International scoured the disaster area, providing emotional and spiritual support and assisting with the cost of funerals.

But, like many nonprofits, the organization faced a tight budget. To continue offering emergency services, the regional Red Cross consolidated positions to reduce expenses. Three months after the tornadoes, the organization announced the changes. In September, the local chapter went from one part-time and four full-time employees to one full-time employee.

This occurred while demand for Red Cross’s services increased.

“It is a constant, daily challenge to find funding,” Heard said. “When something like the tornado happens, we have to be ready to go. We can’t wait until it happens. We have to have kits packaged and vehicles gassed up.”

Each dollar raised in the silent, live and art auctions at The Big Deal represents another hot meal for a rescue worker and clothing for families that lost everything in fires.

“While major disasters are a part of the Red Cross’ efforts, it is the single family house fires that far outnumber the large events,” Chapman said.

Since July, the local American Red Cross chapter responded to 47 fires and distributed $25,000 in emergency funds to those families.

The fires and natural disasters that displace Morgan and Lawrence county residents will not stop. And neither will the Red Cross.

“It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night an emergency happens, we will be there because there is a need,” Heard said.

If you go

What: The Big Deal presented by the Decatur Jaycees and benefiting the American Red Cross Morgan-Lawrence County Chapter
When: Saturday, 7-11 p.m.
Where: Ingalls Harbor Pavilion, 802 Wilson St. N.W.
Cost: $25 per person in advance or $30 at the door, includes two drink tickets, an appetizer buffet and $500 in play money. Tickets are available by calling the Red Cross at 256-353-4891 at the office until 1 p.m. Friday, or online at decaturjaycees.com.
Dress: Casual
Live auction items: A cruise, a NASCAR experience, one-night stay at The Westin Huntsville with a gift card to Bridge Street Town Centre and a one-night stay at the Shoals Marriott and a Billy Reid Clothing Co. gift card.
Silent auction items: Kindle Fire, an iPad, a catered dinner for 10 from Jody Witt with JW Steakhouse, a $100 gift card to P.F. Chang’s; a gift basket from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que, a gift certificate for a wardrobe consultation with Kate Cole and more.