It all started with a group of women playing bridge.

Now, close to 200 people come out each year to the annual St. Mary’s Catholic Women’s Association’s annual game and card party.

On Feb. 16, many women – and a couple men – gathered into St. Angela Hall to play bridge, canasta, rummy and quite a few other games to mark the party’s 14th year.

“We are playing hand and foot,” Judy Caldwell said. “It’s like a sister to canasta.”

Her group of four – Caldwell, Pat Cooper, Jessica Weber and Josie Fanning – sat with coffee cups nearby and cards tucked into colorful, round holders.

Weber, Cooper’s granddaughter, is the most recent player to join the group and she loves it. The other women gather with their friends every Thursday, “their day” as Caldwell puts it, to play the card game.

“We play all day long (and) have a ball. We really do,” Caldwell said. “It gives us something to look forward to every week.”

They sometimes play bingo but ultimately stay true to their first pick of hand and foot.

“We love it so much. We don’t want to take time to do anything else,” Caldwell said.

While the women continued to hold onto their traditional cards, others had their own folded-out, numbered cards spread out in front of them.

These groups were also concentrating on something a bit different - marked tiles.

The name of their game was Mah Jongg, a rummy-like Chinese tile game with two ways of playing.

“The way we are playing now is the American way with the card,” Louise Lythgoe said. “But there is what we call the Beijing way, and that’s the Chinese way … There’s no card involved.”

Lythgoe and her partners, Karen Sheridan, Joni Hopkins and Carol McCarthy, belong to the National Mah Jongg League. As part of this organization, they pay a yearly fee to receive a new card every spring, keeping the game “not so dull”.

The women have played this “unique, challenging” game,” as Hopkins puts it, for about nine to 10 years and play with different groups.

But they all have gathered into the Catholic hall for this event before.

“It’s like a military operation the way these ladies run this, in a good way,” Lythgoe said.

“It’s (wonderfully) organized and in good humor, and the lunch is always nice. And the prizes are always fun.”

The event took place from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and required a $10 registration fee.

Every year, proceeds go to selected Aiken charities – namely a child’s shelter, a women’s shelter and an animal’s shelter, according to Mary Alice Speed, publicity chairman.

This year, $2,700 was raised for the Children’s Place, the Cumbee Center and the Equine Rescue of Aiken.

These charities aren’t the only ones who benefitted from the event. Door prizes such as bottles of wine, purses and hand towels were given out, not based on who won the games but from random drawings.

“(There’s) anything a lady can use in a house,” Speed said. “It’s just a nice assortment.”

Lunch of freshly-prepped finger sandwiches, desserts and fruit were prepared by some of the church members.

Kathy Newland, whose worked with the event for the last three years, worked on the food and to set the drink table.

While she’s not personally a big fan of card games, she knows the event holds enjoyment for others.

“The ladies have fun,” she said. “It’s nice, and it’s for good causes.”

Though the event has expanded out to include other games like Monopoly, Scrabble and checkers, Speed holds the original as her favorite.

“(Bridge) I think helps our minds,” she said. “It’s a good way of getting together.”