Linda Emond of Lewiston marks her bingo cards at Loaves & Fishes bingo hall in Lewiston recently. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

It is a post-pandemic love story: A few weeks ago, Loaves & Fishes bingo lifted its mask mandate, prompting more bingo players from all over Maine to return to the community they know and love.

After closing March 13, 2020, the location reopened for two weeks after Oct. 17, 2020, but then closed again because the allowed capacity was too small, it was losing money and, again, because in early April, one of the bingo volunteers came down with the COVID-19.

The location reopened April 30 and has been operating since then. About three weeks ago, the state lifted the mask mandate. 

Marie Levesque of Lisbon marks her cards as she and others play bingo recently at Loaves & Fishes bingo hall in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“For a while, we had a 6-foot distancing mask mandate,” said Dot Gosselin, who helps run the games at the hall at 855 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. “Because of that, people said I have too many rules. But that’s the way it is. We abided by all the rules because that’s what we needed to do.

“We still have people who are afraid to come because they’re older. I did it because I was concerned about their safety. We didn’t want anybody to get sick.”

The mask mandate might not have been popular with everyone, but many respected it.

“It was in their own discretion whether they should allow people to wear masks or not,” said Rosalie Beaulieu of Lewiston. “They were trying to be safe. I would’ve worn it all day if that meant I could come back.”

Fellow players agreed they were happy to be back.

“The best part is getting to see all of your friends again,” said Cheryl McKinney of Oxford. “I think that the people here used to come to win money. Now you go to see your friends.”

Tomiko Levesque of Lisbon plays bingo recently. She said she missed playing at Loaves & Fishes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and returned when the hall dropped its mask mandate. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Pat Mongeau of Lewiston said she missed girls night with her friends.

“Whether I win or I don’t win, it’s a night out with the girls, so it doesn’t matter to me,” Mongeau said. 

For Judy and Scott Reed, both of Lewiston, the place has a special meaning.

“It’s kind of like a date night for us,” said Scott Reed, wearing a shirt that read “I love Judy.”

Judy, meanwhile, wore a shirt that read “I love Scott.” 

Judy Reed, who has played the game since she was 18, said her mother is the reason she began playing bingo. The Reeds come to donate, rather than win, and to enjoy one-on-one time together. The games are run by the Dominican Sisters of Sabattus.

Tomiko Levesque of Lisbon said she missed the thrill of the game. When she heard about the no-mask update, she thought to herself: “Yay! No masks!”

Wearing glasses and a mask while playing competitive bingo did not necessarily go together. 

Patsy Watt of Leeds said she missed the game, too, because it is “good exercise for your hands” and the mind. 

“It keeps away that Alzheimer’s business,” added Bernie Clavette of Sabattus. 

Steve Waterman of Auburn plays bingo recently at Loaves & Fishes. Waterman is known as “The Chicken Man” at the hall. “I don’t know,” Waterman responded when asked why he got that name. “I like chickens, I guess.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

All in all, the pandemic made most of the players feel more appreciative for what they have — at Loaves & Fishes Bingo and beyond. 

“I think people here appreciate being around others more now,” Ellie McKinney said. “I think the conversations changed during COVID. After the place started opening up, you could see the difference in people’s moods.”

Mongeau said the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded her to appreciate everything, from bingo to the nature outside her window.

“I remind myself to enjoy today. Nobody’s guaranteed tomorrow,” Mongeau said. “I don’t say five weeks from now. I just deal with it today. 

“It’s good to see these people now (at bingo). Even when I’m sitting at home, reading the newspaper by myself, I’ll notice everything around me. I enjoy exactly what comes in my sight. The squirrels, the flowers, the butterflies, everything.”

Chrissy Gallo, who runs the bingo games with Gosselin, said the bingo players “definitely missed it” and have all been very grateful to be out and about. 

“They tell me it’s just like their home,” Gallo said. “It’s a big family here, for sure.”

Sister Jacqueline Provencher, left, and Sister Monique Belanger play bingo recently at Loaves & Fishes. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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