Shane Pond almost didn’t take the call that came in on Tuesday night. The Epping resident’s phone battery was at 1 percent and he didn’t recognize the number.
“At first, I thought it was a telemarketer,” he said on Wednesday of the voice that told him he’d won the $46,895.50 jackpot in the Chase the Ace for Kids at Shooter’s Pub. “I almost hung up.”
It took a minute for the 38-year-old father of two to register that it wasn’t a prank call. He and his best friend Bryan Ellis had won Exeter’s own version of the Powerball jackpot, which has been growing for almost a year.
The two friends agreed to each put in $20 and split the winnings. They’d only entered for a few times when they won big.
“This doesn’t happen to me,” Shane said. “I went in on a hope and prayer and either way, your money went to a good cause.”
That cause is the Chamber Children’s Fund, which provides vouchers for warm coats, clothing and bedding to children in the area.
Bryan had been the one to tell Shane about the ongoing Chase the Ace game at Shooter’s Pub. The fundraiser for the Chamber Children’s Fund is like a 50/50 raffle in that half of the pot goes to the winner and the other half goes to the fund.
The pot has been growing since the game began on Feb. 27 of 2018, with a $100 donation from Bayside Distributors. Each week, people bought tickets for $1 for a chance to win. Once a ticket was drawn, that person selected one card from a deck of 54 cards (which included the jokers) hoping to find the ace of hearts. Until this week, no one had picked the ace of hearts. The deck was down to nine cards. The total pot was up to $93,791.
The idea for the fundraiser came from employee Bob Hibbard, who approached Shooter’s owner Rob Ficara about the idea. Rob is a longtime committee member with the Chamber Children’s Fund. “I’ve been involved since it started 30 years ago,” Rob said. “The neat thing about the Chamber Children’s Fund is that we raise money through doing fun things, which is really up my alley.”
Other fundraisers include the annual duck race on the river, Candlepins for Kids, and the gingerbread house contest during the holiday open house.
Once they had the proper approvals to host Chase the Ace, the event seemed to take on a life of its own, with weekly commentary by CCF committee member Bill Arnold, who led the weekly Tuesday night drawings.
“On Tuesday nights, it really is quite an event,” Rob said. “The room is just electric, as the dollar amount goes up. Everybody’s really full of a lot of good will.”
And at the same time, people have commented that they like supporting a good cause while getting a chance to win.
“It’s just like every Tuesday night’s a holiday,” Rob said. “It’s like Christmas morning as they come with their tickets.”
Hosting the event at Shooter’s was a natural for Rob, who says the pub has a strong sense of community among regulars.
“A pub is a place where people get together to catch up on the events of the day,” he said. “The night of the drawings, everyone in here is just one big ball of energy.”
Karen Drapaniotis, co-chair of the Chamber Children’s Fund, said as the pot continued to grow each week, with no big winner, so did the excitement.
“It’s almost surreal,” she said. “We go there every week, and we think really can it really be this much money, and somebody is going to win it?”
Karen recalls when the game started they thought maybe they might get to $5,000, then $10,000. With tickets only $1 each, news of the jackpot spread. Two weeks ago, they sold 9,000 tickets. People could buy tickets from a machine any time that Shooter’s or the Exeter Lanes is open.
For Karen, there was an added bonus of hearing people say they wanted to support the Chamber Children’s Fund, with their ticket purchase. The members of the committee have heard from school nurses around the area with stories of how vouchers for coats have impacted children. One local nurse sent the committee a note about a quiet middle school boy. A teacher noticed that the boy was always wearing the same clothes and asked if he was okay. The student revealed that there were some challenges in his house.
“With the gift card we were able to provide some much-needed basic staples for this young man,” a school nurse wrote to the CCF committee. “The pride he took in his appearance after was pretty rewarding to see and his gratefulness was just overwhelming. Just wanted to share the difference this wonderful gift made in the life of one young boy.”
The Chamber Children’s Fund is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year and has cumulatively given out over $1 million in the form of vouchers to local children to buy warm clothing and bedding. This past November, they gave out 634 vouchers, totally $67,930. They also provided $12,000 in assistance to school nurses at schools throughout the area, who may use those funds to provide direct support to students in need.
“We try to help where we can,” Karen said, adding they hear stories about children who are able to get a new coat for the first time after having hand-me-downs. “It’s so rewarding.”
As for Shane and Bryan, they were still digesting the news of their big win on Wednesday. Shane was thinking of paying off his vehicles and possibly buying a new mountain bike. Bryan almost missed his call because he didn’t answer his phone at first on Tuesday night.
“It kept going to voicemail, I was very concerned,” Shane said, adding he tried to prepare his friend for the news, by asking “Are you ready for this? I know you’ve got a heart issue.”
Missed your chance to get in on the excitement so far? Here’s the good news, the next game of Chase the Ace is starting up next Tuesday. It will start with a $500 gift from both the CCF and Shooter's Pub. Tickets are still only $1.
“We’re really happy that this fundraiser is doing so well,” Karen said, adding. “The chances of winning this are a whole lot better than winning Powerball.”
Lara Bricker is a former staff writer for the Exeter News-Letter, the author of two books of non-fiction and an Exeter resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; on Facebook at Lara Bricker Author; or on Twitter @larabricker.