People waited in line overnight in the darkness and drizzle, some with umbrellas and some with folding chairs, to make sure that they walked away with some of the $50 gift cards that Star Gospel Mission gave away Monday morning in Charleston.

The line wound along Meeting Street, turned the corner at Line Street and stretched nearly to Nassau Street before the doors opened to let the group file in at 7:30 a.m.

The woman who arrived first didn't want to give an interview, but Donald Heyward, who showed up second, said he laid claim to his spot in front of the mission's front door at 9 a.m. Sunday. He left only to check on his puppy, Heyward said, and he came back with food to get him through the night.

A recovering alcoholic and drug addict who now takes college classes, Heyward, 60, said he has spent the past four decades off and on the streets in Charleston but smiled Monday as the people in line behind him grew restless.

"My life is second to none," he said, "because I haven't had a drink today."

Star Gospel Mission Pastor William Christian said everyone who showed up by 7:30 a.m. received one of the $50 vouchers. The mission had to turn away people in previous years, but they offered gift cards only to people 25 or older this time to prevent teenagers from collecting and selling the cards.

Christian said he will provide another 350 gift cards to local pastors this week with a goal of helping the neediest people across Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

Residents can use the cards to buy food -- but not tobacco, alcohol or lottery tickets -- at Piggy Wiggly stores. The Post and Courier's Good Cheer Fund, an account through which readers make donations every December, pays for the gift cards and other charitable contributions during the holiday season.

Neighborhood friends Shirley Jones and Delores McFadden joined the line at 7:30 a.m. They both suffer from arthritis, they said, and wanted to avoid standing outside in the damp air as long as possible.

"People were here last night," Jones said. "It's really helpful for the neighborhood."

Jones said she planned to use the card to buy bath tissue, soap, detergent and, if she has any money left over, some cinnamon rolls for herself. McFadden said she, too, needed toiletries and also diapers for her great-grandchild.

After all the waiting -- nearly a day of standing outside for some people -- Star Gospel Mission gave away all 650 gift cards within just an hour.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or