Legion deals winning hand to help shelter

Tara Cahill likes the excitement of winning a pot in poker.

"My husband plays quite a bit and told me there was a tournament supporting the (Iowa City) homeless shelter," Cahill, 34, said. "We're doing something good for society by supporting them."

About 75 shuffled up and dealt in a no-limit Texas Hold 'Em charity poker tournament Sunday at the American Legion Post No. 17, 3016 Muscatine Ave. All told, an estimated $400 raised through the tournament will be donated to the Shelter House. A Feb. 8 fire damaged Iowa City's homeless shelter at 331 N. Gilbert St.

American Legion service officer and tournament organizer Mike Hull said he contacted Shelter House officials shortly after the fire to offer a hand.

The fire, which caused about $10,000 in damage, started outside at the rear of the house near the fire escape. The exterior of the house sustained the most damage including the emergency exit stairway and melted siding.

Shelter House executive director Crissy Canganelli said most of the damage on the second floor has been repaired and the emergency exit has been replaced. Tenants moved back into the second floor about a week after the blaze, Canganelli said.

Canganelli said the siding still needs to be replaced, adding she did not know when that would happen.

Several community organizations, including churches and construction firms, have offered to assist the Shelter House, Canganelli said. Although she doesn't play poker, Canganelli said the charity Hold 'Em tournament fits right in with the American Legion's philosophy of giving back to the community.

"I think it's very touching that everybody finds a different way to help," Canganelli said. "People can have fun and also can help out a charitable organization at the same time."

The atmosphere at the American Legion during the first hour of play was subdued. The ruffle of shuffled cards and the clink of the plastic chips striking the green felt tables all but drowned out the murmurs among the poker players.

While taking a quick cigarette break between hands, Tom Tompkins, 22, of Iowa City, said the allure of Texas Hold 'Em lies in its element of chance.

In Texas Hold 'Em, players are dealt two cards, which are kept secret. Meanwhile, five "community" cards are dealt face up from which the players try to make the best poker hand while placing bets.

Tompkins said he plays about twice a week, mostly with friends. On Sunday, Tompkins said he wanted to help those in need at the Shelter House.

"It's kind of addicting to tell you the truth," Tompkins said. "You really don't have to have good cards to win. It's all about the betting."

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