Due to the pandemic, the Grand Lodge granted permission to Plant City Elks Lodge #1727 to use their 2019-2020 Freedom Grant in February 2021. The lodge was unable to complete their original plans for the veterans due to COVID-19. It has been the lodge’s custom for the last five years to take valentines to the hospitalized veterans. This year they decided to use their Freedom Grant to expand their Valentine's Day weekend by contracting with Mission BBQ Restaurant to provide 60 hospital-approved meals and 60 bags of useful personal items. They also added $20 worth of canteen cards to each of the bags. These cards are highly coveted by the veterans because they can be used to buy needed or wanted items from the hospital-run canteen/store. The lodge made Feb. 13 a very nice day for the Poly Trauma, General Rehab, Chronic Pain/Post Deployment and Brain Injury Units. Lodge members contributed most of the items that were in the goody bags. While the members were not able to interact with the veterans because of the pandemic, they were told that the veterans were so happy and grateful for what turned out to be a big party for them. The lodge also included Valentine’s Day cards in each bag from lodge members and students from Plant City Advantage Academy.
Pictured are Judy Wise, Lodge Veterans Chair; Alyssa Kociba, recreational specialist at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital; and Ed Wise, Americanism Chair.
On March 2, Green Cove Springs Elks Lodge #1892 donated 22 Launchpads to the local public library system that were purchased using funds from its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant. Launchpads are secure, educational tablets preloaded with apps, games and stories for children, and they help with early literacy, science, math, engineering and critical thinking. These devices will provide additional access to technology and will allow children to expand their digital literacy while increasing their motivation to learn. Pictured is Linda Rittenhouse, Florida Ladies of Elks President, setting up the tablets at the Green Cove Springs branch for library circulation.
On Feb. 20, Jacksonville Elks Lodge #221 held its second annual military baby shower using funds from the Elks National Foundation Spotlight and Gratitude grants in the amount of $4,000. Because of the pandemic, military families are not permitted to gather in groups, so with permission from the Elks National Foundation to change the event that they had originally planned, the lodge held a drive-thru baby shower instead. Members and volunteers gathered Wednesday before the event to separate all the gifts and donations for each family. The lodge planned to help 16 families with the shower, but with the help of Blue Star Families and the USO, they were able to help 23 families! The Elks asked each family to give them their wish list of their most wanted items for their new baby, and members shopped for these items, including strollers, pack n’ plays, bassinets, baby swings, bouncers, diapers, clothing, bedding, diaper genies, cloth diapers and hygiene items. The USO provided extra diapers, wipes and a homemade blanket for each family. Lodge members were extremely generous with their gifts in the collection box, which had to be emptied several times. Approximately $660 was donated from members. Elk and event organizer, Deborah Reedy, also received donations from Camp Gladiator, a local workout group. On the morning of the event, 14 members brought balloons and hung a “Welcome” banner. Each family was assigned a time slot to come pick up their gifts. When they arrived, they were greeted at the lodge’s entrance by two members and parked under the portico with the helpful driving directions of Elroy the Elk, who also passed out special treats and drug awareness materials to the kids in the cars. The families’ gifts were loaded into their cars by more volunteers who had decorated the driveway with balloons and streamers. Elks talked to military members who had just delivered their baby or who were due to deliver in a few weeks or even days. The appreciation was very evident on every recipient’s face and in their voices. It was an extremely rewarding day with not only giving back to military families but in making a real bonding experience for Elks members! A father who stopped by for his family’s gifts is a recruiter for the U.S. Marines and he told them how he was completely amazed at what the lodge was doing for and giving to the families.
Pictured are volunteers ensuring all gifts are on the correct table; event organizer, Deborah Reedy, with Elroy the Elk; volunteers from the lodge and Blue Star Families under the event banner; and Wendy Layton of Blue Star Families; Elroy the Elk; Kalin Ford, recipient; Jim Reed, Veterans Chair; and Deborah Reedy, event coordinator.
On March 14, St. Petersburg Elks held a spontaneous fundraiser and collected $430 for the family of fallen Tampa Police Officer Jess Madsen. He is survived by his wife and three children. Madsen, 45, was killed early March 9 when his patrol car was struck head on by a wrong-way driver on I-275 near Hillsborough Avenue just before 1 a.m. He was responding to reports of a vehicle driving in the wrong direction when he was struck by the car. Officer Madsen and the other driver were both killed in the impact. According to Police Chief Brian Dugan, witnesses said Madsen appeared to intentionally veer into the other car's path to protect others. Officer Madsen had served with the Tampa Police Department for 16 years.
On Feb. 25 using funds from the Veterans Day fundraiser, Lakeland Lodge worked with the James A. Haley VA Hospital to assist them with some of their most recent needs. The lodge donated just over $5,000 worth of needed items. The Voluntary Services Department, which includes permanent patients, long-term patients and veterans who are homeless, was provided with 66 pairs of reading glasses, 46 pairs of slide sandals, 60 pairs of sweatpants, 58 sweatshirts, 76 pairs of shorts, 106 T-shirts and 34 laundry bags. The Recreational Therapy Department, which includes patients with poly trauma, spinal cord injury, dementia and Alzheimer’s, was provided with Bluetooth speakers, laser tag games, 24 packs of 24 colored pencils, eight blankets with items to fidget with for patients with memory loss; 26 large-print coloring books, 13 memory activities, eight board games, six Wii games, 40 large-print crossword puzzles and word search books, 14 paint with water books and paint brushes, and 14 large-piece wooden puzzles. All of these items will assist hundreds of veterans in their care and treatment. Pictured are Shelby Schoenborn, Voluntary Services; Steve Masterton, PER; Geoff Hopkins, Recreational Therapy Services; and John McArthur, lodge member.
On Jan. 23 at 9 a.m., Tampa Elks assembled at Coleman Middle School to embark on a landscaping project with students in the Beta Club. To join this club, students must earn 10 hours of community service, retain a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and get two teacher recommendations. These were highly motivated and well-disciplined students, and the lodge members enjoyed working with them. While Coleman is not a particularly impoverished school, the county’s budget for maintenance has been cut due to the increased cost of maintaining COVID-19 precautions. Because of this, the school was looking rather shabby. Lodge member Kristina Chowning is the Beta Club sponsor and determined the scope of the project and the supplies needed and organized the morning by assigning each Elk to a different point in the schoolyard. Tommy Moore helped with pressure washing and supervised students who were applying sod to the picnic area grounds. Jerry Reid spent a few hours raking. Elma Kelly, Laura Jones and Linda Reid worked on planters. Shannon Wheatley worked out front with a group of students. The project involved 75 students and 11 Elks — two food runners, a photographer, two hydration station and lunch helpers, and six who rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Several teachers, some PTA parents and the principal helped as well. Other adults supervised students planting shrubs along the walkway and weeding out a bed of ferns. With that many students, all the projects were done early, so the group went across the street and tackled the track and basketball courts. The project was funded by approximately $1,500 of their $3,500 Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant.