Sorority’s cancer fundraiser uses money-bag appeal

Hundreds of women will play bingo in hopes of taking home a $100-plus designer handbag.

With 20 such purse prizes at stake, the competition will be fierce.

The April 5 event, Purse Bingo, is being organized by Phi Beta Psi sorority. Cost to play is a $20 ticket for 20 games of bingo, and every available ticket has been sold.

And with nearly twice the number of people expected to attend this year’s event compared to years past, the stakes will be doubly high.

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But the seventh annual event is more than just a chance to catch a deal on a nice, new purse. Every dollar the sorority raises through Purse Bingo will go toward grants for cancer research projects across the country.

“The grants can go for breast cancer, prostate cancer, different kinds,” said Martha Smith, a member of the local Phi chapter of Phi Beta Psi and lead organizer of the Purse Bingo event.

Phi Beta Psi is a national civic organization that, unlike a typical sorority, is not affiliated with a college or university. It has about 2,300 members nationwide.

The local Columbus-based Phi chapter has 22 members, said Smith, a past president of the Phi chapter and a past president of the national Phi Beta Psi organization.

Purse Bingo runs just like any other bingo game — contestants must have five numbers in a row to win one of the coveted handbags from designers such as Coach, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and DKNY, among others.

Some of this year’s purses, such as a small Coach bag, are worth up to $500, said Teresa McClanahan, a Purse Bingo organizer.

The sorority, a community service organization, began raising funds for cancer research in 1941, when members officially adopted the cause as its national project.

Through the years, Phi Beta Psi has raised about $7 million for various cancer research grants, Smith said. Typically, six grants of about $35,000 are awarded annually, she said.

Cancer research doctors submit applications for the grants, and members vote on them at their annual national meeting, Smith said.

Phi Beta Psi hosts dozens of cancer research fundraising events across the country each year, including Purse Bingo events locally and in other communities.

While the Phi chapter has had its previous Purse Bingo contests in the Columbus Elks Lodge, this year’s event will take place in the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on the city’s west side.

That extra space is enabling the local sorority to almost double its participation, up from a little more than 300 players to nearly 600 players.

With ticket prices set at $20 each, about 575 tickets sold and donations still rolling in, the chapter is expecting to bring in around $12,000 for the organization’s philanthropic cause.

“It’s really exciting,” said April Lancaster, one of the event organizers.

Although only 20 lucky women will get to take home one of the coveted designer handbags, local businesses have donated gift baskets to give away to other players during the event, Lancaster said.

Additionally, purses worth $50 also will be raffled off during the event, McClanahan said.

Erin Griffin, McClanahan’s daughter, is the designated purse shopper for the Phi chapter. The sorority sets money aside in its budget to purchase the handbags, and Griffin is charged with the arduous task of searching the racks for 20 high-end purses.

“She loves to shop and look for sales,” Smith said.

Proceeds from Purse Bingo, including those from donors who did not attend the event, will be sent to the national Phi Beta Psi organization for the grants. Members will vote on grant recipients at the 2016 national convention July 11 to 13 in Cleveland.

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While tickets for this year’s Purse Bingo event sold out in January, there are still opportunities to donate to Phi Beta Psi’s cancer research cause.

Interested donors can contact member Teresa McClanahan at 812-343-2883 to make a donation to the Purse Bingo. The sorority is accepting both monetary donations and items that can be included in the raffle gift baskets.

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There are no special requirements to join the Phi Beta Psi sorority, a non-profit organization. Its mission is to conduct and participate in charitable, benevolent and civic projects.

Local women who are interested in joining the Phi chapter will be asked to attend some of the organization’s events and business meetings before making a membership decision. Contact Martha Smith at 317-458-0359 for more information.

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At Phi Beta Psi’s 2015 national convention, members voted to award $315,600 in grant money for cancer research, distributing six grants of $52,600 each. Grant funding was awarded to doctors at the following research institutions:

  • University of Notre Dame, breast cancer
  • Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, colorectal cancer
  • Colorado State University, glioblastoma brain cancer
  • University of New Mexico, ovarian cancer
  • Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, lung cancer
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, prostate cancer