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.