“I-18,” the caller said into the microphone. “I-18.”
The room filled with murmur, but no one spoke up. Players checked their cards and then looked around the room. No one spoke up.
“G-54,” the caller continued. “G-54."
Donald Shuford sat at the back of The Hickory Soup Kitchen’s dining area with a glow in his eyes. He moved a spotted bean up and down his cards, poking each empty space with a light tap.
He only needed one more number.
“O-75,” the caller said. “O—”
Shuford raised his hand and pointed his index finger high into the air.
A volunteer came over and verified his card. He was a winner.
Shuford, a homeless man, did not win money for his Bingo. He did not win a sweepstakes, door prize or gift card. No, for winning, he selected something he needed much more — a blanket.
“That’s a nice blanket,” a volunteer said.
“Oh yeah — it’ll do just fine,” Shuford replied.
Shuford is one of 50 homeless and needy residents who take part in the soup kitchen’s bi-monthly Bingo game. While the rules of the game are the same as any other Catawba County Bingo, contestants at the soup kitchen play for basic hygiene and survival items that are donated to the kitchen.
On Tuesday, more than 60 residents came to play for toilet paper, blankets, deodorant, tissues, soda, clothes and other supplies. By the end of the game, nearly every participant had won something.
“Everybody enjoys themselves and gets some necessities, and that’s really the point of this,” said Eric McDonald, a Hickory resident who volunteers at the soup kitchen. “It’s like an amusement park for the needy.”
They play until the resources are gone, which usually takes a couple of hours. On Tuesday, the blankets and hygiene products went first, but winning contestants were also quick to grab a sack of candy from the donation table as well.
Terence Nixon, the contest’s first winner, grabbed a bag of Reece’s Cups after his victory.
“I come from time to time, but I knew I wanted that candy as soon as I got in here,” he said.
A bi-monthly Bingo game is one of several additional events on the soup kitchen’s normal schedule. The kitchen, located at 131 Main Ave. NE in Hickory, serves lunch to hundreds each day using donations from area companies and businesses.
The kitchen now features a library and opens from 8-11 a.m. for residents to use its services, which include a shower, said Hickory Soup Kitchen Manager Austin Pearce.
“About 80 percent of these folks can work and want to work,” Pearce said. “That’s something we are working on helping them with.”
Pearce said the kitchen is also working with other area aid organizations to help get the homeless and needy off the streets and doing something productive. He said through cooperation with groups like the Grace House, Salvation Army, ECCCM, Shepherd’s Heart and many others, there are many options for homeless aid.
Jay Olsen, who has volunteered with the soup kitchen for six months, said there is usually a lot of help during winter months. He said that same type of support is needed in the spring and summer, too.
“If you go hungry in this town, you are choosing not to eat,” Olsen said, adding that the Hickory Soup Kitchen accepts anyone who is hungry.
He said between aid groups, churches and community events, there are usually always options for the hungry to eat.
After he won on Tuesday and collected his blanket, Shuford walked back to his seat and draped the pretty cloth about his legs. For him, the prize was better than any sweepstakes or door prize.