Colored markers were flying Nov. 4 as the Red Cross of Tiffin and Fostoria conducted its first regular bingo night in the former Shobilee store at Tiffin Mall. About 135 bingo enthusiasts came to check out the new location and try their luck at winning cash prizes.
John Sherer, local Red Cross executive director, initially had some concerns about the turnout, because he said the Oct. 28 fun night was not attended as well as he had hoped.
The large crowd Wednesday allayed his fears. Most of the players arrived when the doors opened at 4 p.m. to get good seats and purchase breadsticks and pizza supplied by neighboring East of Chicago Pizza.
"We had to set up 15 extra tables," Sherer said.
As the crowd kept coming, Sherer and 14 volunteers passed out a list of games and assisted the players in getting all the bingo sheets and instant bingo cards they needed.
Volunteers included Bob Hausie and Joe Worland, members of the Tiffin Red Cross Board, and Stacy LaFountaine, president of the board in Fostoria.
"Almost all the board members have volunteered to work bingo once a month, and five of us will be here every week," Sherer said.
The preparations for the bingo games began months ago, soon after Sherer was named Red Cross director in February. Board members from Tiffin and Fostoria approved Sherer's proposal to start a charity bingo game for the agency. Donations had decreased in recent years due to the unstable economy.
"The bottom line was finding an avenue to raise funds to offset the donations we haven't been getting," Sherer said.
The empty store next to the Red Cross office was available and accessible with plenty of parking outside. Sherer started looking for equipment and volunteers. The Fostoria VFW had a bingo set they no longer were using, so they gave the Red Cross a good deal on the equipment. Sherer said he made a presentation to the VFW board, which provided an additional donation to get the bingo project started.
Katie Schreiner of Fostoria and Zack Correll of Vanlue said they enjoyed the new offering. David and Nancy Fleeman of Tiffin said they also were enthusiastic.
"We're avid bingo players - but I haven't won anything yet," David said.
"I like it," Nancy added. "We'll probably be back."
Maria Flores of Bettsville said the payouts are quite generous. She won $170 during the inaugural bingo session.
"I enjoy it ... and it's for a good cause. Any time you keep the money in the area, that's a good thing," Flores said.
The door prizes for the first night were first aid kits. Some special games were featured, such as "Little Red Cross," "spin and win" and "Big Red Cross Jackpot." In addition to a cash prize, the spin and win game gave the winner a chance to win an additional prize by spinning a small wheel. No one won the Big Red Cross Jackpot, which is to grow to $325 this week, or the final cover bingo for the $1,000 jackpot.
"That grows by $100 every week, so next week, it will be $1,100," Sherer said.
Even those who do not win anything can consider themselves winners because their contributions at bingo benefit the local Red Cross. People may register as a "Red Cross Bingo Booster" to receive weekly updates and a card that is to give them extra opportunities to win door prizes. Sherer said about 80 people have signed up so far.
"We are not fooling around with this project," Sherer said. "It's important to the continuing well being of our organization, every dollar earned from bingo will be used to help the citizens of Seneca County with all of our Red Cross services. We get no Federal Funding, approximately 40 percent of our funds come via the United Way and the rest come from local donations and local class trainings that we do," Sherer said.
He said the annual budget for the Red Cross ranges from $80,000 to $100,000, and the agency spent $1,300 for the most recent fire in Fostoria.
Those who missed the first bingo game are invited to come ready to play Wednesday. Proceeds from the bingo nights are to remain in the area to benefit the local Red Cross. The early bird bingo starts at 6 p.m. with regular bingo at 6:45 p.m., running until about 9 p.m.
"I just hope the people who come to play bingo have a good time and bring their friends to future bingo games. My sincerest hope is that we will be so successful that we will only have to ask United Way in Tiffin and Fostoria for half the money we received this year or maybe nothing at all. This venture could help all our agencies," Sherer said.
Volunteers still are needed to help with the Wednesday Red Cross bingo. For more information, call the Fostoria office at (419) 435-5360 or the Tiffin office at (419) 447-1424.