FREEPORT, Maine — Inside the empty Freeport fire station, the numbers rang out for all to hear.
“N 45,” the announcer said. Then, after about 15 seconds, another, “G 57.”
More than 150 eager players scanned their cards, looking for a match. Welcome to Turkey Bingo at the Freeport Fire Department.
Turkey Bingo has become a treasured local tradition. Each year — except 2020, when the COVID pandemic canceled the game — bingo fans have packed into the firehouse for fun and a chance to win a turkey just in time for Thanksgiving.
“And it's just fun, seeing familiar faces here, year after year, generation after generation. It's really great,” said Jen Libby, who volunteers with the Freeport Lioness-Lions Club.
Turkey Bingo always happens the Monday before Thanksgiving. It's run by the Fire and Rescue Company, a nonprofit charity arm of the Freeport Fire Rescue Department.
The contest raises money for a variety of good causes the company helps, including Little League, Christmas gifts for needy children, and more. It’s the group's only fundraiser of the year, but the fire department members say the tradition is just as important as the money.
“It is fun. Some of the people you see, they show up every year. It’s the only time you see them is at Turkey Bingo,” said Capt. Jason Cass, current president of the Fire and Rescue Company.
Part of the tradition is also the fact that all the turkeys and grocery gift card prizes are donated by Freeport’s Bow Street Market.
The Fire and Rescue Company put up a big 'thank you' sign inside the market to make sure everyone knows about the owners’ generosity.
“Yes, they are very generous. It's been a great partnership through the years with them,” Cass said.
There were no shouts of “Bingo!” to be heard during the game, but players clearly like both the tradition and the turkeys. One veteran firefighter said Turkey Bigo started 82 years ago, at a time when the prizes were actually live turkeys.
There wasn’t a gobble to be heard during these games. But winners like Heather White said the turkey is very welcome.
“It is. We needed to buy a second one because we have a bunch of people coming, so it’s a great help,” she said.
White, a nurse and former firefighter herself, and many of the others, are regulars at Turkey Bingo. And they say the tradition is part of the fun.
It's the same for one of the oldest players.
Emma Morissette celebrated her 82nd birthday Monday night, playing bingo.
“You see all the people,” she said. “And win a turkey. “
Morissette, White, and the others said they will be back for Turkey Bingo next year, the Monday before Thanksgiving.