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B-I-N-G-O! Senior Center offers up new game

Craze - From Banks to Forest Grove and Hillsboro to Cornelius, the popular letter-and-numbers game is bringing in Tuesday night crowds - and profits, too
by: Chase Allgood, Hillsboro resident Bob Evans (right) calls the numbers while players watch their cards during a recent bingo session.

Every Tuesday morning, Barbara Loman and her mother, Louise Clemons of Yamhill, bake cookies or cupcakes to take to the bingo game that evening at the Forest Grove Senior Center.

The cookies are two for 25 cents, with all proceeds going to the center. Cookies are better, Barbara explained, because you can eat them with one hand, leaving your other hand free to mark numbers on a bingo card.

Their cookies are a hit, and so is bingo. Loman listed the reasons she likes the Forest Grove game: 'It's closer and there's not as much stress. This is fun. You can relax.'

Linda Sepulveda of Banks came for the first time with her mother, who just moved to Oregon from San Diego. She's helping her mom acclimate to the Pacific Northwest.

'We've come for lunch. I think we'll start volunteering at the gift shop occasionally,' she said.

Sepulveda added that she had never played bingo before but thought it would be good mental stimulation for her mother.

Willie Makin of Cornelius comes with his wife Teresa for the opportunity to socialize and have fun. Besides, said Makin, 'It's the only game in town.'

Cathie Barth, Hillsboro, volunteers as the bingo supervisor. Barth, who has worked in casinos, originally came to play.

'I could see the organizers were struggling, so I volunteered to help.'

Other volunteers include Bob Evans of Hillsboro and his sister, Alberta Peterson of Forest Grove. Bob was calling the numbers March 25, giving Russell and Fay Snoke a break and a chance to play bingo themselves.

On most nights, Russell calls the numbers and Fay works in the kitchen. On this night, however, Alice and Jim Hand were in the kitchen. The two are active in the local VFW chapter and find great satisfaction in giving back to the community.

'We love it here,' Jim said. 'People are just so nice.'

Starting April 1, doors will open at 5 p.m. with play beginning at 6, an hour earlier than the current schedule. That will give everyone a chance to get home earlier, including the many volunteers.

Don Breen, special events coordinator, said the center is netting $250 to $350 a week and averaging 45 players each week. To date, the biggest payoff occurred March 11, when Kathleen Andrus of Forest Grove won $300. Expanded bingo was Breen's effort to ease the facility's budget woes, which came to light last year after the center lost a $200,000 county food service contract.

'It's going great,' said Breen. So great, in fact, that Breen is applying for another license, allowing the senior center to gross $74,000 a year and net a little less than half. The current license, from the State of Oregon, allows the center to gross $20,000 and net $10,000.

'When that happens,' he said, 'my life will be a whole lot easier.'