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Bingo night hopes to bring community closer to answers to St. Anthony woman’s disappearance

With enough chairs to seat nearly 1,000 people, Wednesday night’s bingo-themed fundraiser for the search efforts for Jennifer Hillier-Penney packed the Polar Centre with residents from all across the Northern Peninsula attending. Hillier-Penney has been missing since Dec. 1, 2016.
With enough chairs to seat nearly 1,000 people, Wednesday night’s bingo-themed fundraiser for the search efforts for Jennifer Hillier-Penney packed the Polar Centre with residents from all across the Northern Peninsula attending. Hillier-Penney has been missing since Dec. 1, 2016.

ST. ANTHONY, NL - A communal atmosphere abounded as smiling faces of all ages walked through the packed stadium hugging and chatting. 

They had all assembled hoping their efforts could bring resolution to a gloom and unease that has pervaded the town of St. Anthony.

Gathered together at the Polar Centre, it was no ordinary bingo night for community members across the Northern Peninsula. The event had been put together to raise funds to continue the search for Jennifer Hillier-Penney, who has been missing since Dec. 1, 2016. Hillier-Penney is the latest in four disappearances in St. Anthony that remain unsolved to this day.

Marilyn Walker, a member of the Jennifer Search Committee that organized the bingo night, said it has been uplifting to see so much involvement from the community. Her ultimate goal is to see closure brought to both the family and the community as to Jennifer Hillier-Penney’s whereabouts.

As she looked over at the crowded tables with people still pouring in from outside, Marilyn Walker, member of the Jennifer Search Committee that organized the bingo night, said the community involvement has been uplifting to see.

“We have so much here tonight it’s absolutely unbelievable,” Walker said. “To see the outpouring of support with prizes, money donations, just seeing the amount that’s down there on those raffles – it’s just amazing.”

Jennifer Hillier-Penney’s brother Glen Hillier spent the past week gathering tables and chairs for Wednesday night’s bingo fundraiser for his sister. He said everyone he’s contacted has been extremely supportive and helpful.

As well as volunteers donating their time to sell bingo cards, tickets for the 50/50 jackpot draw, and chips and pop, a variety of prizes were also donated. The prizes ranged from hundreds of dollars worth of hand-made quilts, a barbecue, locally made lawn chairs, $300 in groceries from Foodland, and many others.

Walker said what’s more important than any of the prizes, however, is that this event brings the community closer to finding the truth about what has happened to Hillier-Penney.

“Everybody is heart-sicken and everybody is here for that one reason – to show support,” said Walker. “We’re all looking for answers the same as the families are looking for answers.

“We need to know what happened; we need to know where she’s to. And until that is straightened away I think the whole unease and unsettlement in the community is going to continue.”

Hillier-Penney’s brother Glen Hillier agrees that it is key to keep moving the search for his missing sister forward.

Jace Hillier, Jennifer Hillier-Penney’s nephew, wanted to show his love for his aunt and partake in the bingo festivities. Glen Hillier, Hillier-Penney’s brother, said, “Jenny thought the world of Jace.”

“That’s the big thing – we’re here for Jenny and we’re not going to let it drop,” Hillier said. “We don’t got nothing unless we get closure.”

Hillier has been hard at work the past week acquiring tables and chairs to ensure all needed equipment was gathered for Wednesday’s event.

Driving around from Griquet to Goose Cove, Hillier had gathered tables and chairs from fire brigades, seniors clubs and elsewhere.

“All I had to do was make the call and people were more than willing to help,” he said.

With the first bingo game beginning shortly after 8 p.m., the events went on until the jackpot draw around 11:30. The night included 11 adult and two kid games of bingo, and three other games including the 50/50 draw.

Natalie Blake and Amy Patey, friends of Hillier-Penney, volunteered their time and ran a booth selling tickets for the end-of-the-night draw. With the money they had made at their booth alone, they both felt the night was going to draw a major pot to help fund future searches.

“To see all this support, I think everybody’s really overwhelmed,” said Blake.

As of Thursday afternoon, the official count of how much money raised from the event has not been determined. The Northern Pen will provide the amount when available.

Walker is hopeful the money raised will provide any needed resources for the RCMP in their investigation and any future searches conducted.

Amy Patey, left, and Natalie Blake both volunteered to run a table when they got word that the bingo night for Jennifer Hillier-Penney was being organized. Patey is a friend and Blake is a former co-worker of Hillier-Penney.

“Everybody is just trying to work together. If  [the RCMP] need a resource that is not financially taken care of, then it will be taken care of by this committee,” Walker said.

“The ultimate goal is to pull every resource that can be pulled and do whatever needs to be done to find answers to satisfy the family and the community.”

Hillier says if his sister was at the Polar Centre Wednesday night, she would be flabbergasted by how people from areas all across the Northern

Peninsula had come together and poured their heart and souls – all just to find her.

“If she was here tonight she’d be saying, ‘Oh geez, this is all for me? No way!’” Hillier said. “That’s just the way she is.”

By Kyle Greenham
The Northern Pen

CLICK FOR RECENT SERIES ON All FOUR MISSING PERSON CASES IN ST. ANTHONY

kylegreenham@northernpen.ca

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