Purse Bingo returns to support local breast cancer patients

This year's Purse Bingo will be held at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on March 31.

Encinitas-based nonprofit Shades of Pink California will host its annual Purse Bingo event, which raises money for local breast cancer patients, on March 31 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Encinitas. Check in starts at 5:30 p.m. and the first game of bingo is scheduled to start an hour later.

“It’s a very exciting and fun event,” said Vembra Holnagel, the organization’s treasurer, former president and founding board member.

Purse Bingo started five years ago in her living room with 23 guests and a total fundraising haul of $900. It has since grown into one of the nonprofit’s hallmark events.

This year there will be about 120 guests and a $10,000 fundraising goal, an increase from the $7,000 to $8,000 the event has generated over the past few years.

The organization awards grants to women with breast cancer that help cover expenses such as housing, transportation and other costs of living. Many of them face financial restrictions, such as losing their jobs or health insurance, as they undergo treatment, which often includes surgery and chemotherapy. Over the last six years, Shades of Pink California has issued approximately $200,000 in grants to women in treatment or recovering from breast cancer.

“These women often are the heads of household or their income is important,” Holnagel said. “They’re all low-income.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, regardless of race or ethnicity. It also causes the most cancer deaths among Hispanic women, and second most among black, Asian, American Indian and Alaska native women.

When it comes to those who have been affected by breast cancer, “almost everyone knows someone,” Holnagel said, whether it’s a family member, friend, coworker or neighbor.

Preparation for Purse Bingo usually begins six months in advance and picks up in January.

Tickets for this year’s event are $60 online through March, and will be $65 at the door if they’re still available. Tickets include eight games of bingo, with each player receiving four bingo cards, as well as a light dinner and drink ticket. The prizes are designer handbags. Auction items, including a health and beauty basket, bottles of wine and other items, will also be available.

Event organizers are seeking North County businesses to provide cash sponsorships, gifts-in-kind or other types of contributions. Volunteers are needed for check in, food service and bartending.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is located at 890 Balour Drive, Encinitas. For more information, visit