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Wednesday, October 28 News

‘A wonderful way to get people engaged’: Westporter’s virtual bingo raises nearly $7,500 for nonprofits

WESTPORT — When Stanley Witkow started his weekly virtual bingo game at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic he aimed to provide a space for people to safely gather and enjoy themselves.

Now, he’s helped raise nearly $7,500 for non-profits, such as Homes with Hope and the Connecticut Food Bank, through the game.

“It’s the most amazing thing in the world,” Witkow said of hitting the milestone. “This is serious money.”

Witkow said the idea came when he got a call from his son on a late Saturday night talking up a virtual cocktail party with his friends. By this time much of the North East was beginning to lockdown to mitigate the virus’ impact.

“He was just as happy as he can be,” Witkow recalled. “He said ‘you guys should do this.’”

While he wasn’t up for doing charades, he said he and his wife quickly agreed bingo could be a suitable game. They then agreed supporting charities would be the next step.

“We got the idea we could do it for charity, and let the winner of whoever won bingo choose a COVID-related charity for the money to go to,” Witkow said.

The group started off with a dozen friends, but has grown to include participants and Westport expats all over the country.

Phyllis Hirschfield, a Stamford resident, said she has been good friends with Witkow ever since she used to live in Westport. She and her husband have participated every week in the games.

“It’s such a wonderful way to get people engaged, not just to pull them out of their own cocoons we’re all living in, but also to engage and feel like you’re donating something — that you’re doing more,” Hirschfield said.

She said this was a fun and great way for people to come together as a community and help make a difference for people whose lives have been impacted by COVID.

“We don’t want people to forget that there are so many people who are still without jobs, who are still without a place to live, and without healthcare,” Hirschfield said. “It kind of focuses your energy in a real positive way without spiraling down into this funk so many others are feeling.”

She said the game has brought people from as far as Philadelphia, Florida and California together.

The game has even drawn the attention of the Westport Rotary Club, which Witkow is a member of and will have its own virtual bingo game on Oct. 21. Like usual anyone will be able to join, he said, not just club members.

“It’s always open to everybody,” Witkow said. “The Rotary fights polio so all of the money goes to that.”

He said he suspects when a vaccine is finally introduced his virtual game may come to an end, but in the meantime he’ll continue the service. People interested in joining can contact him through his website: stanleywitkow.com.

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“We’ll see when people stop being interested in doing it,” Witkow said. “Right now everyone is very, very interested in it so there’s no reason not to do it.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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