Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Elks Bingo a fun way to help the community

For the Westlock News

Hugh Thomson calls numbers during the Westlock Elks Bingo night at the Memorial Hall on Aug. 17. Eric Bowling/WN

“Under the B, three.”

“Under the I, 22.”


It’s Monday night and the Westlock Memorial Hall is packed yet again.

Every week people from across the county and beyond converge at the hall for the weekly night of bingo, which is run by the Westlock Elks.

“I love it. You win money, and it’s something to do in the evening,” said Michelle Whitton. “It’s money for me and money for the people.”

Aside from good times and good company, the weekly bingo serves as a major fundraiser for the Westlock Elks, which in turn funds and promotes numerous charities throughout the region.

Hugh Thomson was the caller for the evening and said they expected to bring in at least $1,200 that night alone, while the Elks raise an average of $60,000 yearly through the bingo.

Elks Exalted Ruler Pat Rufiange, who has been with the Elks for three years, said all the cash goes to local causes.

And the bingo hall is run completely by volunteers as Rufiange estimates that about 50 man-hours go into running each weekly.

“No one gets paid, a portion of the bingo goes to maintaining the hall, though we’re trying to make the hall self-sufficient,” said Rufiange.

Just over 100 people poured into the hall on Aug. 17 and most were quite aware that the bingo was an essential part of the community.

“It’s something to do to get away,” said Daryll Mann, who came out from Barrhead. “But the charity aspect is nice too.”

Rufiange figures bingo night is likely to remain for years to come.

“If we cancel bingo on a long weekend Monday, we get our butts kicked,” Rufiange joked. “We cancelled one last year and we didn’t hear the end of it for a few months.”

What the Elks do

In addition to giving free rent and utilities to the Westlock Food Bank, the Elks help fund the Westlock Gators swim meets, various projects at the Spirit Centre, the activities of iStar — a support group for people with stuttering syndromes — and four separate $1,000 scholarships that are divided between St. Mary and R.F. Staples.

The club’s latest effort is purchasing a pair of “Caroline’s Carts”, special shopping carts designed for people with walking disabilities. The carts will be available in September.

“They’re good for up to 250 pounds,” said Rufiange, “They’re going to be available at the two grocery stores.”

With the average age of Elks members around 70, most of those volunteer hours are offered by retirees. Rufiange noted they would like to get some younger people into the service club.

“We’re trying to get 30 to 50-year-olds,” said Rufiange, adding that there’s currently about 50 Elks in the area.

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