On June 17, Frank Ruszala, Chair of the Aripeka Lodge Board of Directors, and Bob Russell, Exalted Ruler, present a check for $1,000 to Jessica Quintero, team supervisor, and Gabby Flores, outreach manager of the Healthy Start Coalition of Pasco County, Florida. The organization provides total support for infant children whose families cannot financially support new children. In addition, Ruszala presented the coalition with handmade blankets and shawls that were made and donated by lodge members.
On the evening of June 17, Aripeka Elks Lodge #2520 donated $1,000 that was raised by lodge members to K9 Partners for Patriots to help fund the purchase and training of a K9 dog for a veteran in need. Receiving the donation from Exalted Ruler Bob Russell are Vreli Covington, Stephanie Doctor and Mary Peter, founder of the organization. The complete 24-week Service Dog Training Program includes the cost of the dog’s purchase, all necessary equipment and the training, which is provided to the veteran at no cost. The lodge Veterans Committee is raising funds to purchase and train two K9 dogs at a cost of $8,000 each.
On June 1, Zephyrhills Lodge began its annual summer program, Feed the Kids, using its $6,000 Elks National Foundation Impact Grant. To meet the demands of the higher costs of food this year, members are doing raffles and the lodge is receiving donations from members and the community. The Lunches on the Go program is continuing to serve meals in a drive-thru setting with the concerns of COVID still present. Five days a week, between 30 and 35 members and community volunteers cook, pack and serve meals through the dining room door. The families drive up with a number to show how many children they have and then drive away with meals and donations of food. The food donations come from community organizations such as Harpervalleyson's Food Pantry in nearby Wesley Chapel, Meals on Wheels and Thomas Promise in Zephyrhills. The lodge feeds an average of 80 children per day. The children also receive a weekly craft project and books. The books are donated by the local Rotary Club.
On May 26, Zephyrhills Lodge and the Veterans Committee donated clothing, bread, rolls and pastries to Food and Fellowship in Zephyrhills, Florida. Their mission is to help individuals and families who are displaced. Last year at the end of the lodge’s Feed the Kids program, the lodge donated its extra food to Food and Fellowship, helping them feed those in need. Pictured are Ken Fabiani, PER, Lodge Veterans Chair, and Lawrence Vickstrom, executive director.
On Dec. 12, Kissimmee Elks Lodge #1873 partnered with Embrace Families Community Base Care, Aspire Community Action Team, and Gulf Coast Jewish Families and Community Services to host what has become one of the lodge’s most meaningful annual events. For the fifth year in a row, the Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant and matching Florida State Elks Association grant made this event possible. Because of COVID-19 constraints, the day was called Elves on the Shelf at the Elks Drive-thru. Accompanied by the music of their BSA scout carolers, Elroy the Elk handed out his drug awareness goody bags. Over 175 baskets of food plus gift certificates for each of the 400 children were handed out to Osceola County foster and diversion families as they drove through the very festive property. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Department was also on hand to delight the children further with their generous giving of plush animals by a friendly Grinch. At the end of their exciting journey, the children were greeted by Santa and Mrs. Claus who were sitting, waving and wishing them a very merry Christmas. Lodge members donated their time and additional personal contributions to make this a very special day. Pictured is Elroy the Elk with lodge-sponsored Scout Troop #82.
Even with the year’s challenges, Zephyrhills Elks Lodge #2731, for the second year in a row, collected cash donations for high school students who are in need during the holidays. These students are dealing with homelessness and/or significant financial hardship. Chaired by Shirley Crawford, Inner Guard, donations were collected for several weeks at the lodge and totaled $2,000 which were then turned into 10 $200 Walmart gift cards. Donations were from 50/50s, bingo players and members. The students were selected by Judy Williams, Zephyrhills High School family coordinator, and Christina Stanley, Zephyrhills High School principal, and were given the gift cards before they went on Christmas break to help them purchase food or clothing or to help their family have a brighter holiday season. Pictured are Williams, Stanley, Crawford and Jay Klamer, Exalted Ruler.
On Dec. 5, Orlando Elks Lodge #1079 hosted a "Movie Under the Stars Holiday Party" for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida (DSACF). Twenty families with 36 children attended this event to watch the Christmas movie "Elf" on a 20’ blowup screen. Santa and Mrs. Claus (Dave Wiggs and Carmen Acevedo) spoke to every child and family, provided them with candy canes and reminded them to be good boys and girls. The weather and hot cocoa, coffee, finger foods, music and activities made it a night to remember. This was a perfect event to have outdoors to make families more comfortable during the pandemic. The children and families were so happy and grateful for such a heartwarming Christmas event. Aubie Dingwell, chair; Heather Barnes, Executive Director of DSACF; and many lodge members and DSACF volunteers made the spirit of Christmas alive despite this challenging year. Pictured are Tracie Wilczynski and her daughter, Tracie, and David Stuart.
Orlando Elks Lodge member Carmen Acevedo oversaw the lodge’s Drug Awareness Education poster contest. Entries were numerous and unique. On Oct. 31, a dinner reception was held at the lodge for the winners and their families as well as for school personnel. The top lodge winners will move on in the contest. Acevedo describes the winning posters. “The artwork was really impressive, particularly looking into the bones of the skeleton. Little Jude (first place winner) had a great eye for detail and can really put in perspective the poison drugs can inflict on a body that eventually leads to death. Also, Derek depicted how a child must be strong to say ‘no thanks’ in a society where alcohol, pills, marijuana and drugs can be in your own home, school and community. Even the message 9-year-old Kamryn gave, ‘Tweet Yourself with Respect,’ is actually very clever and adorable at the same time. There was a tie and Riley had an incredible attention to detail in showing what a person can achieve if they were drug free.”
Zephyrhills Elks Lodge #2731 has completed a very successful summer of its Feed the Kids – Lunch on the Go program thanks to the Elks National Foundation Impact Grant and many generous donations. The volunteers made, packed and handed out 8,000 meals to local families – 3,290 more meals than were served last summer. This was the fifth summer that the lodge administered this program, but it was the first year that it was done on the go due to the pandemic. Elroy the Elk visited the kids on the day they each received a packet of drug awareness materials, and a dinosaur visited one day to give out the meals. Along with the meals furnished by the lodge, the lodge received a grant from the United Way which contracted with a local restaurant that provided 120 meals daily to give to the families. Local food pantry Harpervalleyson’s gave each family fresh produce and other food items two to three times a week. Local foundation Thomas Promise gave bags to each child weekly with enough food to cover the weekend. Local Rotary members gave out books to all the middle school and high school children at the end of the summer. This feeding program has truly become a whole community effort. On Aug. 16, a volunteer appreciation luncheon was held. A catered lunch was donated by a lodge member. The theme of the program was Be A Light. Donna Moyer, PER, program chair, talked to the group about how important the Elks believe it is to be a light in the world and make a difference in the lives of children. A memory board created by Ilene Nutting and Susan Slater with pictures and thank-you notes from the children was displayed at the luncheon. Pictured are Elroy the Elk aka David Moyer, PER; the dinosaur aka member Beth Impson along with Gladys Shepard, Irene Nutting and Shirley Reigler; Impson looking at the board; and the volunteer members and spouses.
Using a portion of its Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant, West Citrus Elks Lodge #2693 presented CASA (Citrus Abuse Shelter Association ) with $750 to help defray ongoing expenses. Also, with a portion of its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant, the lodge supplied approximately $1,000 worth of food and supplies for use in the daily operation of the shelter. Pictured are Sunshine Arnold, CASA CEO, and Kris Estus, Exalted Ruler.
On Aug. 18, Florida’s primary day, Kissimmee Elks Lodge #1873 participated in the "Adopt a Precinct" program where Osceola County, Florida, rents part of the lodge building for election voting. Some members are trained to fill polling positions and they donate their salaries to the lodge. From the rent and poll workers’ salaries, $325 was split between the Elks National Foundation and the Harry-Anna Trust Fund which supports the Florida Elks Youth Camp and Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services. Pictured are the three members who worked the polls — Robert Husband, Steve Hebior and Bob Barry, PDD.
On Feb 8, Kissimmee Elks Lodge #1873 in partnership with the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee held a winter gala charity event for both organizations. The church's portion went to their mission team that travels around the world helping those in need. The lodge will use its proceeds for the Elks National Foundation and the state Harry-Anna Trust Fund. Pictured are Terry Hebior, Exalted Ruler, and Jose Nieves, senior pastor.