SYOSSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island community has come up with a creative way to pass the time and raise money during the coronavirus pandemic.

They’re logging on and playing bingo, and they’re even getting celebrities to play along.

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It’s not every night Academy Award winner Natalie Portman graces your Zoom hangout.

It’s also not every night you get to hang out with virtually with all your friends in town, raising money to fight COVID-19 by playing bingo.


“I think people like supporting their community. They like the community aspect. They like seeing each other,” Ian Weiskopf told CBS2’s Christina Fan.

The idea came about from a group of long-time friends — including Weiskopf, Leslie Arker and Neil Gallow — who live in Syosset, New York.

They were bored themselves, looking for a way to pass time, and decided to invite the whole community to play along while supporting local hospitals.

“It’s nice to be able to do this and feel like we’re putting our energy and efforts behind helping,” Arker said.

The first week, about 140 families joined.

By this Sunday, the number was up to 360.

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Each week, they try to up the excitement, from delivering birthday shout-outs to inviting celebrity guests with ties to home.

Last week, it was basketball player Sue Bird. This week, it was Natalie Portman.

“We were all thrilled to keep it local and have local celebrities, and it really made it, you know, amazing,” Gallow said.

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The group charges $10 for each bingo card. The winner gets a gift card to a local business.

All other proceeds are donated to COVID-19 relief charities.

So far, they’ve raised $33,000, but the money is only part of the reward.

“We take for granted sometimes running into somebody at the supermarket or standing next to somebody on the ball field, and now you see all these faces and it really makes it that much more special,” Arker said.

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Whether or not they get to shout “bingo,” they still walk away with their hearts full.