Submitted by Jane Thurgood Sagal, Member
Radium Hot Springs Sunrise Rotary

Who would have thought that a game of Bingo could garner such amazing prizes?

Upon winning $35,000, Heather from Silverton B.C. writes: “Good Morning all you amazing humans! I cannot begin to thank you enough!This will change my life in allowing me to follow a lifelong dream of running my own little shop in Silverton and staying home close to my loved ones! It will allow me to help pay for my grand-dog’s very expensive knee surgery! As well as a few small pay it forwards I have planned!”

When restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were introduced in British Columbia (B.C.) and across Canada in March 2020, many Rotary Clubs found their traditional community service ground to a halt. When faced with this challenge, the Golden Rotary Club began offering weekly online bingo in April 2020 as a way to help local businesses impacted by the pandemic, to connect with their community, and to keep people entertained during the stay-at-home order in B.C.

Kristie Ehman reflects on the early days, “We started this in our living room with a challenge from a local business owner to try to make a positive impact during COVID, create some laughs, and give people an opportunity to connect. We have grown far larger than we ever hoped, but our values remain the same. It’s about strengthening our communities, building relationships, having fun, and believing in what’s possible.”

In the following months, what started as a game focused mostly on the Golden community evolved into something bigger. Greg Ehman, with the Golden Rotary Club, acknowledges that “We had to make the decision on whether we wanted to keep going the way we were or to expand.” While the Golden Rotary bingo event was doing well, it did not have the numbers to sustain growth. 

With the traditional Rotary communitarian spirit, the Golden Rotary Club invited Rotary Clubs in Southeast B.C. to join. Since the summer of 2020, the Rotary Community Online Bingo has been joined by other Clubs in District 5080 including Radium Hot Springs, Invermere, Cranbrook (two clubs), Creston, Rossland, Trail, Grand Forks, Nelson, Kimberley, Nakusp, and Castlegar (two clubs). 

“We had to cancel the Nakusp Wine & Beer Festival last year”, says Sara Collinson, President of the Rotary Club of Nakusp, “which is our biggest fundraiser of the year. The Community Online Bingo that Golden Rotary got started is helping enormously to make up for that, so we can support the projects that we had planned in our budget.”

Lana Rodlie with the Trail Rotary Club describes her experience when asked to be the ‘Bingo point person’. “I can’t remember the last time I played Bingo, but I took it on. First time I played, I won $625. I’ve put it all back into playing every Friday night. I have all my neighbours and most of my friends playing. Can’t believe the prizes, but also can’t believe how much money our club has raised to support community initiatives!”

Nancy Rogers (Cranbrook Noon Club) and Penny Coyle (Cranbrook Sunrise) assert, “Our takeaway on this bingo is mostly about the connection that Golden created for family and friends. It was never about money; it was about giving something to their community that was fun. That’s how we ‘sold’ the idea to Cranbrook and area when we signed up as partners. It has turned INTO an amazing opportunity for fundraising, and none of us dreamed it would grow like this. We are thrilled to be part of the group!”

With this expansion, the Golden Rotary Club had to increase the licensing requirements and worked closely with B.C. Gaming to do so. The Club also had to purchase a new bingo machine. Higher prize pots now reach up to $35,000 (or more) for the games that are put on each Friday. As more people join to play, the prizes continue to grow.

“It’s been amazing to see it grow”, Greg Ehman notes. There are other communities wanting to join. Recently, the Golden Rotary Club helped Kamloops set up their own game. The Rotary Clubs in Southeast B.C. sincerely appreciate all the work that the Golden Rotary Club has undertaken to develop this project and to open up the opportunity for other Rotary Clubs in the area to participate. 

President Erin Palashniuk of the Radium Hot Springs Sunrise Club concludes, “If it were not for the Golden Rotary Club’s ingenuity in developing online bingo, our club and many others would not have been able to commit funds to their regular programs. On behalf of the Radium Rotary Club, we are forever grateful.”

President Patrick Barclay of the Rotary Club of Kimberley emphasizes Rotary’s motto of ‘Service Above Self’ and affirms, “The modelling of this motto by the Golden Rotary Club is exemplary. Rotary Community Bingo is one of the best examples of a program to raise Rotary’s public image that I have seen. The benefits of showing PowerPoint slides of Rotary projects in the partnering clubs’ communities during bingo games, along with funds being raised during games to support these projects, cannot be overemphasized.”

The money that Rotary Community Online Bingo raises goes directly back into the respective communities (in accordance with B.C. Gaming regulations) with a focus on local projects such as:

  • helping people in the community facing medical challenges.
  • establishing scholarships and bursaries for local students.
  • supporting infrastructure projects in the communities.
  • feeding residents through drive-through events and through the local Foodbank.
  • purchasing digital devices for reading and sports equipment for youth groups.
  • providing funding to local organizations for mental health counselling.

Most Rotary projects are achieved through relationships and partnerships with community groups along with granting agencies. For example, the Golden Club committed Bingo money (plus some grant funding) to the purchase of two trishaw bikes. This project is a partnership built between the physiotherapist at the hospital, the manager at Durand Manor (which is the extended care facility), the Rotary Club, and grant funding from the Columbia Basin Trust Community Initiatives Fund. The Golden Cycling Club has agreed to provide pilots/cyclists. In addition, there are three cycling shops that have offered to provide service and maintenance for the trishaw bikes. It’s an all-around community partnership – something that Rotary Clubs in general, and the Golden Rotary Club in particular, excel at!

A significant benefit of the Rotary Community Online Bingo is bringing people together in a time where we physically must remain apart. This weekly event gives people the chance to connect not only within their community, but across communities. There are families and friends playing bingo together across British Columbia. For the Ehmans, “People coming together, while also helping the community” is the reward.

The Golden Rotary Club plans to keep the Friday Bingo event going as long as current pandemic restrictions continue. “When restrictions lift and people can socialize, they probably won’t be playing online bingo on Friday nights,” said Greg Ehman. In the meantime, if you live in B.C. and you want to add some fun to your Friday nights, enjoy fellowship with individuals across B.C., and support community projects at the same time, tickets can be purchased on the Rotary Community Online Bingo Facebook page.

While this project has allowed individual Rotary Clubs to continue to contribute to their communities, perhaps the lasting legacy is one of Rotarians across Southeast B.C. getting to know each other along with friends and family. Greg Ehman confirms, “The game was always about connecting. In the beginning, we gave 100 per cent back to local businesses and organizations. We only saw the opportunity as a fundraiser as we moved forward. Our vision is still about connecting people, families, and communities with the fundraising as a secondary benefit.”

As pandemic restrictions lift and warmer weather calls us outside for social gatherings, we will remember the joy and collegiality of connecting through online bingo in 2020. Thank you to the Golden Rotary Club for their generosity in strengthening the community and their open-heartedness in welcoming other Rotary Clubs to join their venture: Rotary Community Online Bingo – a gateway to “Connecting during COVID-19”.