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NewsCommunityThe story of Milpitas Charity Bingo -- and how it has disbursed...

The story of Milpitas Charity Bingo — and how it has disbursed over $2 million in grants to local nonprofits

Most evenings, if you’re driving down South Milpitas Boulevard, you’re likely to notice a certain location hopping with activity…  

That spot is known as Milpitas Charity Bingo, and it has been embraced by the community since it opened in September 2019. 

From all over the Bay Area, bingo players flock to Milpitas Charity Bingo, located at 461 S. Milpitas Blvd., citing its ultra-friendly staff and volunteers, cleanliness, and fun atmosphere as among their main reasons for coming every week. 

And not only is it beloved by bingo players; it’s also a place where nonprofit organizations have found the opportunity to volunteer and receive generous donations in the process. Nonprofits like the Milpitas Historical Society, the Milpitas Executive Lions Club, and Hope for the Unhoused send volunteers out on a monthly basis to help out during bingo games.  

Milpitas resident Cheryl Oldham works to organize and volunteer with three different entities that lend their time to Milpitas Charity Bingo in return for donations – Youth in Arts Milpitas, Fancy Dancers, Inc., and Milpitas High School Music Boosters. 

“I’m so grateful that Milpitas Charity Bingo has created this opportunity for the families of our area to raise funds,” Oldham told The Beat. “It just takes a few hours and it’s not too far from home. We get to meet some amazing bingo patrons and at the same time, support our local families.”

In the bingo industry, Milpitas Charity Bingo is quite unique. Usually, a single nonprofit group runs a bingo game, and that group then gets to keep what it receives in donations. However, Milpitas Charity Bingo is its own entity, offering nonprofit organizations throughout Milpitas the ability to volunteer and make money for their own groups on a monthly basis.

Bob Livengood, who served as Mayor of Milpitas from 1984-1988 and 2008-2010, came up with the initial idea for Milpitas Charity Bingo. After he left office in 2010, Livengood was approached by representatives from a couple of small nonprofit organizations who asked if he had any ideas for raising funds.  

He learned that most small nonprofit organizations didn’t have a reliable mechanism for raising funds each year. They were all attempting the same kind of fundraising efforts – like selling candy or doing car washes. And despite all their time and energy, they just weren’t raising enough money. 

Livengood knew there had to be a better way. 

“Most nonprofits are small groups, and they have a difficult time raising money,” Bob Livengood told The Beat. “I saw an opportunity to help out these smaller groups – the PTAs, the sports teams, all of the folks that struggle.”  

Soon Livengood started looking into the possibility of bingo – and from there the whole idea for Milpitas Charity Bingo blossomed. 

 

Photo courtesy of Milpitas Charity Bingo.

 

“I found out about bingo by talking to people and looking on Google,” said Livengood. “There were all these small bingo games in churches and American Legion halls. And I began to think, we can do that in Milpitas.” 

But the applicable ordinance in Milpitas only allowed for a given entity to organize bingo games one night a week. So in 2017, Livengood went to the City Council to ask for a change to five nights. They agreed, and the rest is history.  

“Since its inception, Milpitas Charity Bingo has disbursed more than $2 million dollars in grants to local charities, churches, nonprofits, and foundations. And we’re just getting started!” said Livengood. 

At Milpitas Charity Bingo, games go on five nights a week, Thursday to Monday. They’re open regularly from 5:30pm-10pm, and have special matinee hours from 12pm-2pm on weekends. There are no games on Tuesday or Wednesday.  

Currently, Milpitas Charity Bingo has about 30 different nonprofit volunteer groups in its lineup, which they refer to as “nonprofit partners.” For each night of bingo, a new group comes in. 

Each of these nonprofit groups must bring seven volunteers to work one night a month. Sometimes, members from more than one nonprofit group will volunteer, and the different groups will share in the donations.   

The volunteers mostly do sales, work the bingo floor, and sell bingo cards to players. 

As far as the amount of donations received, every night is different. Nonprofit groups receive money based on donations made by the players.  

“On an average night, it’s about $1,000,” said Livengood. “Some nights they make more than that.”

Rob Jung is the President of Hope for the Unhoused (H4U), a nonprofit organization that has been working to reduce homelessness in Milpitas since it was founded in 2020. 

“Milpitas Charity Bingo is a critical partner for H4U because they provide us additional funding for us to provide Milpitas unhoused essential items such as food, water, tents, hygiene packs and sleeping bags,” Jung shared with The Beat. 

A bingo player from San Jose who wishes to be called Jill likes to come out to play at Milpitas Charity Bingo once a week. She remembers sitting in the parking lot and playing in her car a few years ago, during the height of the pandemic. 

“It’s my escape. I still go once a week. I like that they help out a lot of different organizations. It’s not just focused on one group. They help the whole community,” Jill told The Beat. 

Andy Junio has been playing at Milpitas Charity Bingo since it opened. When asked why he prefers it over other spots, he said, “The staff is friendly, there are nice people here, and they give us more incentives compared to other bingo halls.” 

Debbie Engley has been playing bingo since 1997, after a friend happened to introduce her to the game. Since then, she has been hooked. She started coming out to Milpitas Charity Bingo since the day of its inception, and continues to come just about every day it’s open. 

“I’m a creature of habit. And once I find a place I like, I tend to set roots,” Engley told The Beat. “The people that run it are really nice, and the people that work there are nice. After a while, they’ve become like family. I’ve met a lot of people there that I’ve grown friendships with.”  

Livengood, who is currently a Trustee on the San Jose Evergreen Community College District (SJECCD) Board, likes to come into Milpitas Charity Bingo a few times a week — to stay connected to the players and also offer support to any of the volunteers who need it. 

“This is working because the City is so supportive of us. We would have never gotten here if not for them,” shared Livengood. “It’s also working because of the awesome nonprofits that come in every day we play and provide that level of assistance. I can’t say enough about them. They walk in and are ready to go and work hard for three hours. It makes me very proud of our community.”  

 

 

 

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Paid for by Evelyn Chua for Milpitas City Council FPPC#1470209spot_img
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Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro is the winner of a 2022 Golden Quill Award for her Education journalism. She works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works mostly with nonprofit organizations and educational entities to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also the author of “Fierce Woman: Wake up your Badass Self” and “Magic Within: Womb-Centered Wisdom to Realize the Power of Your Sacred Feminine Self.” Her YouTube channel features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As a member of both the Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association and the Chamber of Commerce – two of the organizations benefiting from Bob Livengood’s vision and hard work – I want to emphasize Andy Junio’s comment about why he prefers Milpitas Charity Bingo over other spots:, “The staff is friendly, there are nice people here, and they give us more incentives compared to other bingo halls.” From the free coffee to the professional staff, a friendly and happy community comes together 5 days a week. I encourage others to join the fun, either by playing or serving.

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