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Area professionals don old gowns for night of bingo to benefit shelter

Linda Woolf, co-chair of Bridesmaids’ Bingo

Moments after a woman in a white fedora and a hot-pink, bejeweled bridesmaid gown jumped out of her seat and yelled “Bingo!”, a group of dancing women made their way to her table, rewarding her with a large goody basket.

And every bingo winner got the same treatment.

It wasn’t theme bingo night at the fire hall, but rather a fundraiser for My Sister’s Place, a Baltimore homeless shelter for women. The event, called Bridesmaids’ Bingo, started up nine years ago as the brainchild of a group of professional women, including several lawyers.

“The theme we came up with was ‘Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,’” said Natalie McSherry, an attorney with Kramon & Graham in Baltimore, who is on the event’s planning committee.

“They [the women] have so much potential, but they’ve never been able to meet it until they get to My Sister’s Place, where hopefully they can get some help,” she said.

The volunteers had initially hoped to raise $5,000 in their first year. They were far more successful, bringing in roughly $20,000 for the Catholic Charities shelter.

About 350 people showed up at last week’s event at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, and Jackie Reid, who works for My Sister’s Place, said the event netted about $50,000.

2009 marked one of the most successful years for the event, drawing 475 people, but the struggling economy limited participation in last year’s fundraiser, which brought in $42,000 for the charity.

Aside from event tickets — $100 per person and $800 for a table — Bridesmaids’ Bingo raises additional money through raffle prizes. Attendees could purchase a glass of champagne for $20, which entitled them to a prize bag that included at least $25 worth of gift cards to local spas and stores.

Committee members solicit donations from area shops and restaurants. This year, Abby Ross Spilker, an attorney with the Law Offices of Peter Angelos PC, said she got Smyth Jewelers to donate a Pandora bracelet worth $1,000, which was slipped into one of the bags.

Radcliffe Jewelers also donated a $500 gift card to its stores.

Spilker, who has never been a bridesmaid, said that last year she wore the dress from the rehearsal dinner for her own wedding.

One woman at last week’s event said she went shopping for a used bridesmaid dress and came up empty. Area Goodwill stores are overrun with women looking for bridesmaids’ gowns just before the event.

Other committee members, like McSherry, have seen familiar bridesmaids’ gowns show up at the event, including the one she had her bridesmaids wear to her wedding. She said usually about 10 percent of the 300 to 400 people who attend dress up.

Amid the pink and white tulle and balloons, three-tiered wedding cake with wedding topper and a bawdy man drawing bingo numbers were women who have been helped by the shelter, two of whom spoke to the crowd. A previous event chairwoman was honored for her work with the charity.

One boisterous group that showed up last week wore crowns; others festooned their bridesmaid gowns with boas, or punk accessories and boots.

Like real bridesmaids, many tugged at and pulled up their ill-fitting gowns for the night — this time not to please a dear friend, but in the name of charity.