Despite all of the hardships of the past year, there has been some good news amid the coronavirus pandemic. As they have adjusted to a new normal, many people have gotten creative, particularly in the ways they connect to others. Seeing a need for socialization and personal connection when everyone, it seemed, was staying at home, Glen Cove resident Eric Shuman created a website and began a free weekly online Bingo night that has continued to grow.
“Shortly after the pandemic started, I felt like I needed a way to keep in touch with family and friends, other than just a phone call or Zoom,” Shuman said. “I thought an interactive game would be perfect.”
Bingo, he said, seemed like something people of all ages would be comfortable playing. And he was right: Since the program began last May, it has attracted players from ages 4 to 104.
“Every week since we’ve started, we’ve added something new, and we get more and more viewers,” Shuman said.
Though Monday Night Bingo began as a way for him to connect with friends and family, it quickly evolved into something for the community. Shuman, 39, the activities coordinator for the Glen Cove Senior Center, created a website, glencoveathome.com, last May to provide some entertainment when not much else was going on. As he began developing it, he said, it became more involved.
“It took hundreds of hours to make sure everything was working properly, to test, and to get used to the production of it all,” Shuman said. “What started out as a simple group of 10 to 15 viewers with one camera is now a full production with music, chat, sound effects, cameras, lights and over 400 players from 16 different states and eight countries.”
When he saw the interest, he said, it made him want to keep improving the event. He enlisted the help of his brother-in-law to create the program, and his wife, Jessica, calls numbers and checks submissions. Other friends and family helped test the program and offered feedback.
“After playing several times with family and friends and getting the hang of everything, I thought it would be nice to offer it to the public, especially for the senior population,” Shuman said. “A lot of people may not be able to get in touch or do a lot in that group.”
As the game grew, he said, he wanted it to have more of a show atmosphere and look more polished and professional. He created different theme nights, adding music and wearing costumes. “What started out as a family-and-friends thing ended up becoming a group of volunteers that put in a ton of money, energy and time to bring some happiness to people during this very difficult time,” Shuman said.
In addition to offering entertainment, the games — now held every other Monday — have also raised money through sponsorships for the SAGE Foundation, the fundraising arm of the senior center.
Kathy Santucci is the community liaison for the Glen Cove Center for Nursing and Rehab and Emerge Nursing and Rehab at Glen Cove. Both companies have sponsored Monday Night Bingo. “There was such a need for socialization during this time, and we felt like we should sponsor the event to help support something that has been good for the community,” Santucci said of Shuman’s game. “It gives people something to look forward to on a Monday night.”
The popularity also inspired Shuman to set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a new Bingo machine for the senior center. It has raised nearly $1,000 so far, and the goal is $2,800.
Mimi Simonetti, 94, the Bingo caller at the senior center, said she enjoys the online games, and has been participating since Day One. “It’s great,” she said, “and he improves it every time.”
Sally DiMiceli, 78, of Glen Cove, a friend of Simonetti’s, said she also tunes in regularly. “It gives us something to look forward to,” DiMiceli said. “Eric plays different games and makes it interesting.”
Victoria Amendolara and her mother, Bridgett, spent their Friday nights playing Bingo at the Glen Cove Knights of Columbus prior to the pandemic. When they saw a post online about Monday Night Bingo last spring, they decided to give it a try, and have been playing ever since. Victoria, 24, said they use a projector to set it up on a big screen, pour a couple of glasses of wine and make a night of it.
“Monday nights were never fun, and now it’s my favorite night,” she said. “It’s a community we look forward to connecting with.”
While they play, participants can chat with others online who are playing the game, and Victoria said she told friends in Canada about it, and they now play regularly as well. As well, she and her mother have both won prizes — gift baskets with a bottle of wine, glasses and snacks — which has made it more fun, and they also appreciate the different themes, as well as the energy, organization and enthusiasm that goes into creating them.
“It’s very well done,” Bridgett, 54, said. “Eric is a ball of joy.”
Shuman said he has received gift baskets and cards of gratitude, and has been recognized around town as the “Bingo King.” The next Bingo night will be next Monday, from 7 to 9 p.m.
“It’s been so rewarding, just playing this simple game of Bingo,” Shuman said, “and without my friends and family doing it with me, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s made us become closer, too.”