How women used an old Chinese game to help Lubbock groups supporting women, children

(Image above: courtesy of Mahjong Monday)

During the South Plains Food Bank’s annual U Can Share Food Drive, community groups have a few minutes to present checks on television.

“We showed up, and they were giving everybody the big checks to present. We got up there, and they kept saying, ‘Who are y’all again, the mahjong moms?’ And we had I think the largest gift of all the people giving during the food drive,” said Elisabeth Burrows.

Andrea Tirey, left and Elisabeth Burrows at Mahjong Monday.

At least hundreds of Lubbock women play mahjong – invented in China in the 1800s – in dozens and dozens of foursomes across the city.

Once a year, the game is used by Burrows, friend Andrea Tirey and others to raise money for Lubbock organizations supporting women and children.

Two years ago, they created Mahjong Monday – an annual fundraiser. At their second event last fall at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, there were 200 players at about 50 tables jammed into the facility.

A year before for their first event, the women reached out to other mahjong groups and hoped for a bit more than a dozen tables.

“If we get 15-20 tables, we’ll call it a win,” Burrows said. They ended up with lots more and raised $45,000 for the food bank.

The second year, the group bought a van for the Guadalupe-Parkway Neighborhood Centers.

Tirey said, “It shows how many women really want to impact the community and different organizations. But also just be together and spend an afternoon … supporting each other. It is women supporting women.”

What is mahjong?

Mahjong players use tiles to create runs, sets and other combinations creating a winning hand illustrated on a card. Each year, around April, the National Mahjong League releases a card with around 50 combination lines to win the game. The game changes every year with a new card.

Taylor Noseff shows off a winning set of tiles, which is called a mahjong.

Mahjong came to the U.S. in the 1920s. The game has had a recent revival, in Texas specifically in the Metroplex. Burrows’ sister began playing in Dallas a few years ago and Burrows wanted to learn the game.

“Tech had a continuing education thing going on and I found a woman there who was teaching a lot of retired people how to play … I need to learn how to play this game. I had a bunch of young girls come over to my house and learn how to play,” she said.

Tirey said mahjong is a special time for them to take a break from work and the busyness in their lives and enjoy each other.

Burrows said mahjong brings different women together – teachers, moms, nurses, college students and more.

“It’s an interesting cross section and a lot of us were not friends to begin with but we’ve become friends through this game. It’s time that we protect for ourselves to really get together and chat and gossip and play,” Burrows said.

Creating Mahjong Monday

The fundraiser idea came from a Dallas group using the game to raise money.

“Imitation is the best form of flattery … we should start doing this,” Burrows said. “I think we had 200 women who came and bought tables. We had a morning of play and all the money went to the food bank.”

“The reason I love it so much is that I knew there were a lot of women in Lubbock playing mahjong, especially in the older generation,” she added. “We literally had women from 90 down to young millennials who were playing who all came together for this one day of community, playing and getting together.”

Last year’s Mahjong Monday at LHUCA.
From left, Elisabeth Burrows, Andrea Tirey and Darla Croom with check showing donation to the South Plains Food Bank. More funds came in after this and totaled $45,000.

Food Bank donation provided 120,000 meals

Dina Jeffries, the food bank’s CEO, didn’t know about mahjong groups in Lubbock until the fundraiser brought in that big check.

“We were thrilled when we started working with the group more and more and knew that the total was going to be as much as it was. It was really going to make a huge impact,” Jeffries said.

Because of the Dallas group’s fundraiser, Jeffries knew this event had potential to raise a lot of money for their cause.

“If we made $10,000, that was going to be $10,000 we didn’t have and we could feed more people with,” Jeffries said.

The food bank was so moved, they invited Burrows and Tirey on air during the U Can Share drive to present their check.

“Here’s a group … having fun, playing games, networking as fantastic women, but they’re also doing something really, really beneficial to the community,” Jeffries said.

The $45,000 donation came at a time when the food bank saw a drop in government help and had to buy more food, she said. Most of the donated money bought food and boxing it for people who needed it.

“One dollar makes three meals here at the food bank … that is a huge impact for us,” Jeffries said, so the gift added up to 120,000 meals. “When other donations that we had seen had been decreasing, just because of our economy, it was a gift that was just really needed.”

Jeffries has stayed in contact with Burrows and Tirey, inviting them to the food bank’s Feeding the Future Gala to learn more about the food bank and ways they can continue to help, she said.

“It gives ownership to the community. They live here, they work here and they care about the challenges many non-profits face. It makes their gatherings a little bit more intentional and they want to give back to the community,” Jeffries said.

Guadalupe-Parkway gets much-needed van

For the group’s second year, they decided to help Guadalupe-Parkway Neighborhoods Centers – offering after-school and summer programs to students from K-12.

“They desperately had a need for a new van to transport these kids. A lot of these older kids after school were having to walk to the center for the after-school things. I think we raised $55,000 and we bought them a van,” Burrows said.

Dela Esqueda, the center’s CEO, said the donation impacts students’ lives.

“We knew that we needed to upgrade and get a new van, so it’s a blessing. This way, we can safely pick them up on a very timely basis and get them over here because the programs are so impactful,” she said.

The center offers music and art lessons, one-on-one reading opportunities and more, she said.

After the mahjong group’s involvement, they’ve begun talking about offering mahjong lessons for girls over the summer.

“It always makes us happy because this community is very giving. Lubbock as a whole is a very generous community, very friendly, very thoughtful. It just brings us all together,” Esqueda said.

“The people who play mahjong were not so much familiar with us as the people that were heading it, the rest of the people were a little bit in awe of what we do so it allowed us to really tell our story to a wider audience. We did get a lot of phone calls from those ladies, saying, ‘what can we do for you, how can we help you?’” she added.

The center fulfills the Mahjong Monday goal.

“They really do research on who would best be able to utilize their funds. Because we work with children, we tugged at their hearts and they tugged at ours, so it was a win-win,” Esqueda said.

Tirey added, “If we can’t get kids safely to and from the program, it’s not even a thing.”

Impact being made

In just two years of existence, Mahjong Monday has raised $100,000. As the event grows, so will its impact, Tirey said.

Everyone who has taken part in Mahjong Monday has made life-changing impacts, she said.

“Everyone who gave and bought a ticket should be really proud. That’s something tangible. We really can see right away that it’s impacting the community,” Tirey said.

Burrows said she needs to make an impact and better the community.

“When I moved to Lubbock, I would think that you need to be present in your community and you need to be trying to help in the areas that it needs help in and improve in any which way. I feel like as women especially, we look at these organizations that are benefiting women and children and we have a lot of those in Lubbock,” she said.


From left: Emily Zwiacher, Kassidy Johnson, Lauren Hill, Emily Gill playing mahjong.
From left: Vicki Sawyer, Ivy Zepeda and Rachel West at Mahjong Monday.

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Author: Caleb Kostencki