Sunday Seniors: Telephonic bingo keeps folks connected in pandemic

  • Marian Whitaker wears a tie dye shirt she won during a game of phone bingo hosted by the Thompson Center in Woodstock. (Courtesy photograph)

  • A screenshot of Liz Sauchelli's winning board during a recent phone bingo game hosted by the Thompson Center in Woodstock. (Liz Sauchelli photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2020 7:06:42 PM
Modified: 8/22/2020 7:06:41 PM

At first, I was skeptical when Thompson Senior Center Executive Director Deanna Jones told me about phone bingo.

Bingo played over the phone? How was such a thing possible? It was hard for me to imagine the lively bingo games I’d played in the past translating well to a party phone line.

Earlier this month, I took Jones up on her offer to join a Friday morning game of phone bingo. There were 15 of us on the call and it was a blast. (I even won a round, but I’ll get to that later.)

The Woodstock-based senior center started hosting the phone bingo games in early May as a way to stay connected to older adults in the community during the pandemic. People call in and talk on the same line. Staff mail bingo cards to some participants, while others (like me) choose a card from the internet. Since I do not own a working printer, I downloaded an image of a bingo card to my tablet and played that way.

“I’m so glad we get to do it,” Jones said.

Prizes range from leggings and costume jewelry that were donated to tie-dye shirts made by Thompson staff and cookies made by the center’s Chef Ryan Martin, Jones wrote in a follow-up email.

“We even gave toilet paper for multiple wins at the beginning,” Jones said in an email.

The games typically last around an hour and begin with “traditional” bingo: Getting five in a row diagonally, horizontally or vertically. Then, the games become more advanced.

Prior to this experience, I had no idea that other forms of bingo existed. There’s four corners (filling in the four numbers in the corners of each board), the picture frame (filling out the inner square of the bingo board), the X (as it sounds: creating an “X” on the board). Once a participant calls “bingo,” they read the numbers on their board back to Jones who confirms it. It’s not unusual to have more than one person get bingo at the same time.

Then, it’s on to the next game during the hour.

“It’s a highlight of my week because without this pandemic, it’s pretty much not go anywhere except doctor’s appointments,” Joyce Phillips said during a pause between games. “It’s just great to have something to look forward to.”

While many activities have since migrated to Zoom’s online video conferencing software, not everyone has access to — or wants to use — that technology.

“We don’t all have computers,” Phillips said. “Or if you have them, you don’t know how to work them.”

While participants talk as they are calling in, silence reigns when the games begin. Jones calls each number — “O-75,” “N-35,” etc. — leaving a couple seconds for boards to be marked and “bingo!” to be called out. Occasional sighs and groans of frustration can be heard.

“Was that bingo?” Jones asked at one point.

“No, that was a sad number,” came the reply.

“Our bingo gets a little emotional sometimes,” Jones told me as an aside.

During one of the “X” pattern games, I could tell I was getting closer to the coveted “bingo!”

And then Jones called out “I-28.” Startled, I responded “bingo?” while another participant proudly called out “bingo!”

Let me tell you this: Bingo might seem like a low stakes game, but there is a serious rush of joy that comes from winning in a game of chance.

Program Director Pam Butler kindly offered my a prize, but asked that it be donated to a senior who needs a little pick-me-up in the community.

“It also keeps our minds active,” Phillips said. “That’s one of the things we look forward to.”

Editor’s note: For more information visit or call 802-457-3277. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

Valley News

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