Virtual bingo brings Westporters together to support nonprofits
WESTPORT — With social distancing becoming the new norm, many have found innovative ways to stay connected. For one resident, this came in the form of a spin on an age-old game: Virtual bingo.
Stanley Witkow, 71, recalled seeing his wife playing online mahjong and was amazed to see her friends also becoming adept with the Zoom video app.
“It’s always interesting when seniors latch onto technology,” Witkow said. “All of a sudden, they’re Zooming all the time.”
He soon saw an opportunity to provide both a platform to connect people, and have some much-needed fun in a time of uncertainty, as the country tries to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. In virtual bingo, each player pays $5 to participate, with the winner donating the earnings to a nonprofit of their choice.
After setting up the game, Witkow reached out to a dozen friends asking if they were interested in playing.
“Before I knew it, we had 20 people who signed up to do it,” Witkow said, adding the first game night was on March 26.
Over the course of five games, the players battled it out, splitting time between jokes and sharpening their competitive edges. Participants came from as far as California, Witkow said, and one participant even looked to set up a similar game night for his retirement community in Florida.
“That’s the best thing of all,” he said. “If people see what we’re doing and realize they can do that in their community, that would be a wonderful thing.”
Last week, the winner of the night chose to donate the earnings to Westport EMS. While the nonprofit of choice is largely up to the winner, Wiktow said he looks to direct funds to organizations combating the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s informal, but I hope it’s related to nonprofits that are somehow impacted or helping people who are impacted by the coronavirus,” he said. “That’s why we did it.”
This week, Witkow said at least 30 people have already signed up to play. While he hopes to keep the number of participants manageable, he said he was pleased with the support.
“I was blown away,” Witkow said. “At the end of the first game, I couldn’t believe we did it and that there were enough people to do it.”
Following the early success, Witkow sent invites to former Westporters who may enjoy seeing familiar faces and neighbors. Others interested in joining can reach out to him through his website: stanleywitkow.com.
“It’s a way to connect, feel good and a small way to help out,” Witkow said. “That’s what makes this really worthwhile, and the idea if this goes on for six weeks, or 10 weeks, or whatever it is, you can feel that you’re doing something that’s helpful.”