Huntley Bingo raises money for pediatric cancer patients and their families.
Marianne Ricciardi’s son had a dying wish inspired by the children and families he saw in chemotherapy.
“He said ‘You promise me if anything happens to me, you have to help these other kids,’ ” Ricciardi said.
She has been trying to keep that promise since her son, Pasquale, known as Patsy, died four years ago from complications of Ewing sarcoma.
“That’s how this started. My son sadly lost his battle,” she said.
Every week, Ricciardi is at the American Legion in downtown Huntley where the charity bingo is held. The bingo costs $10. Earlier this year, she started cooking meals and asking for $1 donation.
“We can’t make big drops in the bucket, but I know this is what he would’ve wanted it and it’s a promise I made,” Ricciardi said.
A son’s legacy
Patsy was 22 years old when doctors diagnosed him with Ewing sarcoma, which is classified as a pediatric bone cancer. It is a rare cancer, even more so when it is diagnosed in a young man like Ricciardi’s son.
“He was the type of person that if you didn’t like him or didn’t think you’d like him, in two seconds he was your best friend,” Ricciardi said. “He had a personality as big as a house. Never once was there a ‘Why me?’ ”
He died at age 25.
Ricciardi was a single mom when Patsy got sick. When he was hospitalized for treatments, she would go to work, then travel two hours to the hospital where he was being treated, stay the night then drive home and go to work again.
Her family went bankrupt trying to pay for Patsy’s treatment to save his life. Ricciardi quit her job to be with Patsy in the last year of his life and lost her home.
“It’s staggering the expense,” she said of the cancer treatments.
Families often don’t qualify for help if they own their own home, she said, and the medications can cost upward of $600 a month.
Patsy wanted his mom to help families like his own. His family started Friends for Patsy when he got sick. The nonprofit has a license for bingo and runs the Huntley Bingo. Volunteers help her with the bingo, but Ricciardi is the driving force.
The monies collected from Huntley Bingo go directly to help families with expenses like electric bills, groceries or transportation costs, Ricciardi said.
The economy has made it harder for Ricciardi to draw people to the charity bingo.
“We have been struggling. We’ve been operating in the red for four years. The economy is bad, money is tight, but I know it has potential and I don’t want to give it up,” Ricciardi said.
But she has made changes recently to try to get people’s attention, like offering a $1 dinner buffet and starting a Birthday Club and progressive No. 58 jackpot, where a winner who calls bingo with 58 numbers or less wins the pot.
Ricciardi was born in Sicily and learned to cook at her family’s restaurant. She knows how to cook Italian and how to cook for a lot of people. The menu changes weekly, depending on what’s on sale. She makes lasagna, sausage and peppers or chicken Marsala. In the summer, she grows her own vegetables and herbs, so she’ll use those ingredients for the dinners.
She collects $1 for The Angel Food Project the dinner buffet she prepares. The money goes directly to the families she had met through a Ewing sarcoma support group.
“I have seen a consistent improvement since I’ve been cooking,” she said.
She’ll keep working to see the number of people attending increase so she can help more families and contribute toward cancer research.
“There are a lot of people who have been coming back because they know (Patsy’s) story,” Ricciardi said, “and maybe cancer has hit them in some shape or form in their life.”