New Brunswick

Virtual group gatherings for bingo has surged during lockdown

After being stuck at home for so long, some people are embracing unique ways to stay connected with family and friends. Sure there’s FaceTime and Google hangouts, but why not add radio bingo to the mix?

And the real winners are the animals at the Saint John SPCA Animal Rescue

Jana Blanchard's winning card from this week's final game. (Submitted by Jana Blanchard)

After being stuck at home for so long, some people are embracing unique ways to stay connected with family and friends. 

Sure there's FaceTime and Google Hangouts, but why not add radio bingo to the mix?

That's exactly what a surprising number of Saint Johners have done. By the droves, they're snapping up bingo cards for the weekly game that provides funding for the SPCA Saint John Animal Rescue.

Jana Blanchard said the weekly bingo game has become a highlight of her family's week. 

"I look forward to it all week now. It's like the main event of the week," she says with a laugh. 

She's only sorry she didn't discover it before COVID-19.

"It's a fun idea, and everybody wants to support the SPCA, because it's such a great cause. But I think now, especially where people can't go out, it kind of gives you a sense of community and bringing people together."

Families gather through video chatting during weekly bingo games. (Submitted by Jana Blanchard)

Each Wednesday night, she gets together with her father and sister and their families via FaceTime. 

So many of her friends are playing that when she won the final game on Wednesday night, she received 15 messages within minutes from friends who were also playing. 

Winning was nice, she said, but so is the feeling of staying connected with people. 

"It's nice because really there's nothing we can do with our neighbours, friends and family right now — besides waiting in the line at Costco and seeing somebody walk by, like 10 feet away, and saying 'hi.' There really isn't much else going on that you can do to feel that community connection."

Plenty of other people are discovering the game for the first time, too, said shelter manager Joan Richardson. 

She passed away almost 20 years ago, but she was a real bingo fan, so we said she's up there in heaven saying, 'Well, look at that. They're all playing bingo.'- Beth Creary

In fact, card sales doubled in the first couple of weeks since the province declared a state of emergency. 

Although she doesn't have the final numbers for last week or this week, Richardson said the shelter has been getting calls from vendors who were selling out of cards days in advance of the game. 

Richardson said the increase is particularly welcome during the pandemic. The animals keep coming in, but veterinarians aren't allowed to spay or neuter them, so they cannot be adopted.
That means more mouths to feed on less money, said Richardson. 

Without government funding, the shelter relies on donations and those are down since COVID-19 arrived. 

"So this is a huge help for us," she said. 

Richardson is also pleased that their weekly fundraiser has provided some entertainment and social engagement to participants. 

She's heard "that people who had never played before were so happy to have this form of entertainment at this time when people are missing that social connection.

"We all struggle and try to cope through this uncertain time, and if that brings some fun into their home, we're really happy to do that."

Richardson said radio bingo has been around for years and cards are available at about 60 vendors from Sussex to St. Martins to Lorneville — and all are posted on the shelter's website and Facebook page. 

Beth Creary and her family only discovered radio bingo amid COVID-19, and it's become a huge hit. 

Creary wasn't sure what to expect when her daughter first suggested it, but she was keen for any excuse to connect with her grandchildren through FaceTime.

She said the isolation has been difficult. She has seven grandchildren who all live in the Kennebecasis Valley, so she was accustomed to regular contact. 

Radio bingo cards are available at about 60 vendors in the Saint John area. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"We're used to having them for sleep overs and being able to hug them and see them quite often," said Creary. "So this has really been hard on us." 

That's why she jumped at the chance to do something that would put them "virtually" in the living room with her daughter's two oldest children. 

And now she's hooked. 

"It's a bright spot in these times," said Creary. "With social distancing, it's really hard. But we all have to do what we can do, and hopefully some days things will be back to normal or maybe it'll be a new normal."

She believes her mother would approve.

"She passed away almost 20 years ago, but she was a real bingo fan, so we said she's up there in heaven saying, 'Well, look at that. They're all playing bingo.'"


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