Winter Garden Elks Lodge #2165 used part of its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant to purchase jeans, shirts, socks, jackets, tents, sleeping bags and flashlights for Matthews Hope, a homeless ministry in West Orange County. Pictured Dec. 16 are lodge members Sharlene Dewitz, Ellen Snyder and Pam DePriest.
South Lake Elks knew they could not do their regular outreach events this year and felt it was best to get many agencies together to create a large collaborative effort. Christmas Across South Lake was created by South Lake Elks to help make Christmas a little brighter this holiday season for children in the South Lake community. Elk volunteers distributed 146 toy collection boxes and several Angel Tree tags to numerous businesses all over the area. Local businesses encouraged their customers to drop off toys in their collection boxes and offered their customers free or discounted items for their donation. Also, approximately 48 nonprofits, civic clubs, service groups, schools and police departments participated by either making donations or gathering toys.
An online application was set up for those wanting to sign up to receive something. The link was shared with churches, schools, civic organizations, police and fire departments, the mayor's office and other nonprofit organizations. Everyone who applied received something.
Collections for new toys, gifts and food began Nov. 9, and the last toy was distributed Dec. 24. A warehouse was donated for use by a member of the community and each family was called and given a date of pickup which was a drive-thru setup. Volunteers wearing masks loaded toys and foods in their vehicles.
The lodge spent its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant which was matched by the Florida State Elks Association for a total of $7,000 entirely on food for the families. Members shopped groceries which were greatly discounted for the Elks by Winn-Dixie. The lodge used its $2,000 Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant to purchase bicycles since that was a major request. The lodge donated an additional $2,000 and the rest came from donations from the community.
The impact this endeavor made was tremendous — 2,510 children and 725 families in the Clermont, Minneola, Montverde, Groveland and Mascotte area received a boost this holiday season. A total of 610 food baskets were distributed as well.
At the District Deputy visitation at South Lake Elks Lodge #1848 Nov. 15, lodge member Mendy Bacon (right) presented a check for $12,462.98 for the Florida Elks’ major projects to Colleen Gallant, PDD, Director of Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services. Denise Kalman-Smith, PER, Exalted Ruler, looks on. The donation was raised through the lodge’s Boating for Kids annual fundraiser, the floating poker run, which Bacon organizes. It was held in July.
For the past seven years, Winter Park Elks Lodge #1830 has hosted a white elephant gift exchange. This year, Stephanie Yohman, chair, continued the tradition Nov. 29 with masks and social distancing. Each year, attendees are asked to bring donations to supplement three local elementary school food pantries and items for cats and dogs in rescue shelters in central Florida. This year due to the pandemic and state mandated guidelines, turnout was lower than usual at 25 members, but approximately 75 pounds of food for Happy Trails Animal Rescue and 50 pounds of food for Cats Can Feline Rescue were still collected along with monetary donations. Both rescues were happy to receive the donations as they both said, "Every little bit helps." There were also a few donations for school food pantries that the lodge supports.
Inverness Elks Lodge #2522 was proud to sponsor the 2020-2021 Elks Drug Awareness Education essay and poster contests. Pictured Nov. 11 are Andrew Moore, SRO Deputy; Daniel Harsh, third-place essay contest winner; Mikayla Lucena, first-place essay contest winner; Felicity Mohammadbhoy, second-place essay contest winner; Jim Manos, Drug Awareness Education Lodge Chair; and Dianna Goolsby, Lecanto Middle School assistant principal. Goolsby is holding a framed certificate that was presented to the school. The theme this year was “No Excuses.”
Inverness Elks Lodge #2522 completed its seventh year of the Backpacks for Success school supplies program. This year, the lodge provided 168 backpacks as well as school supplies for 60 area children in foster care and students in 17 local schools. The lodge works with the Citrus County Foster Parent Association Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization. Funds were again provided by the $2,500 Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant. The lodge used some of its charity funds as well. The lodge purchased backpacks in bulk and school supplies from a wholesale source in June once the decision was made to open Citrus County schools. This year, most of the backpacks and supplies were shipped directly to the lodge. Because of the pandemic, instead of having 30 individuals at the lodge to pack everything in one day, the lodge members worked in groups of five from Aug. 10-14. On Aug. 15, the backpacks and supplies for the children in foster care were delivered to a central distribution point five days before school started. On Aug. 18 and Aug. 19, members delivered the backpacks to the guidance department of each school by appointment.
Inverness Lodge held a Flag Day ceremony including flag retirements June 13 with assistance from Boy Scout Troop #302 which is supported by the lodge. Scout leader and Youth Activities Lodge Chair, Steve Epple, right, heads the flag burning.
On May 27, Eustis Lodge again supported Lake Cares Food Pantry with $450 from its Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant to help community members affected by the pandemic. Pictured are JoJo Myhr, member; Bill Myhr, trustee; Ruthie Hoffner, pantry director of development; and Patsy Despain, PER. In 2019, Lake Cares Food Pantry in Mount Dora, Florida, served 51,720 people approximately 904,000 pounds of food. They have been doing this since 2009 and the need increases every year. There are five mobile sites for availability. Their clients mostly consist of senior citizens and those who are disabled, but during the pandemic, many younger people with children are also being fed.
1578 leesburg pantry: Also on May 27, Eustis Lodge gave $500 from its Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant to the Leesburg Food Pantry to help them serve clients during the pandemic. Don Diamant, Past District Deputy and president of the food pantry notes that there are several volunteers who work more than 400 hours and drive nearly 900 miles per month. Diamant puts in over 100 hours and drives more than 300 miles each month. They serve those in need in Lake County, Florida. Pictured are Bill Myhr, lodge trustee; JoJo Myhr, lodge member; Don Diamant, PDD, pantry president; and Patsy Despain, PER.
On May 28, $500 from Eustis Lodge’s Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant was given to The Carpenter’s House in Leesburg, Florida, to help them during the pandemic. Directors Patrick and Linda take care of up to 17 children from infancy to age 18 who have been orphaned, some from third-world countries. Most are from Nigeria and New Guinea. Normally they return to their homeland where they continue to help and educate others in need. Pictured at the donation presentation are Mike Schwellinger, Lodge Esquire; Patrick and Linda, directors; and Patsy Despain, PER, presenting a check for $500 to help defray expenses due to COVID-19 pandemic. Residents pictured from the bottom to top on the stairs are Lydia, Hanna, Tiana, Juliana, William and Dan. Directors Patrick & Linda are pictured in front of the house.
Eustis Lodge gave an additional donation of $2,000 to The Carpenter’s House June 1 to purchase food for those living at the home. Pictured are Mike Schwellinger, Esquire; Bo Borwegen, Exalted Ruler; Dan, resident; Linda and Pat, directors; and Hannah, resident.
Inverness Elks Lodge #2522 happened to be the sponsoring lodge for both this year’s state winners of the Drug Awareness Education poster and essay contest. Fifth grader Cason Davis won the poster contest and eighth grader Morgan Cyr won the essay contest. This year’s theme was Life Does Not Rewind – Choose Life, Not Drugs. Both winners received a $50 Walmart gift card and a $50 Dominos gift card from the lodge. They each also were given a television from the Florida State Elks Association. James Manos, Lodge Drug Awareness Education Chair, presented these to Morgan May 20 (with her mother, Kelli Hutton) and Cason May 28 (with his parents, Shay and Jimmy Davis) at their respective homes.
On April 1, Eustis Elks Lodge #1578 made a donation of 325 steaks to Lake Cares Food Pantry in Mount Dora, Florida, for distribution to those in need during the coronavirus pandemic. The lodge used $1,054 from their Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant to make the purchase. Pictured are Ted Beck, House Committee member; Ron Locke, PDD; Becky Carter, Supervisor of Lake Cares Food Pantry; Dee Borwegen, House Committee member; and Bo Borwegen, Exalted Ruler.
On Feb. 17, the Eustis Elks Lodge’s Americanism Committee recognized the Officers of the Year from police and fire departments of Mount Dora, Eustis, Tavares, Leesburg, Umatilla and Howey-in-the-Hills. Officers were also recognized from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Fire Department and the Florida Highway Patrol. Also honored were the K-9 officers and their K-9s from Eustis, Leesburg and the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Dinner was served to all officers, spouses and the chief of each department. Each department was given a plaque to be placed at their departments. Each officer received a framed certificate of achievement from the lodge. Each chief explained why their officers were chosen for their recognition by their peers. The keynote speaker for this annual event was Michael J. Saxe, retired detective from New York City and a 9/11 first responder. He is also a member of the Ocala Elks Lodge. The Table of Honor was performed by the Mount Dora High School Jr. Air Force ROTC. Lodge member Lt. Chad Williamson of the Eustis Fire Department was chosen as that department's Officer of the Year.