St. Petersburg Elks Lodge #1224 had a dozen singing Valentine llama stuffed animals that they held back from the holiday Walgreens toy drive that they donated to the Salvation Army that were distributed to young children in their foster care homes Feb. 14 along with an assortment of Valentine sweets.
For the 2020 Walgreens-Elks Community Gift Drive, Tampa Elks Lodge #708 collected toys from 15 stores Dec. 15. Laura Jones, Jeremy Elkins, Christien Elkins, PER Shelagh Gombarcik, Paul Deland, Wendy Hall, Tommy Moore and Rita Smith all participated in the pickups. By the end of the day, Youth Activities Chairs, Patty and Mike Volpe, had counted 924 toys. This was in addition to the dozens of toys Tampa Elks had donated. The Youth Activities Committee was overjoyed because they had many families that had asked for help. The Volpes developed a COVID-safe plan. On Dec. 19-20, the toys were displayed in the lodge room from noon until 8 p.m. Four families per hour were preregistered to come Christmas shop for their kids. They were not permitted to bring the children with them, but instead were each allowed to pick out three gifts plus a stocking stuffer for each of the children they had registered. Then, they were able to wrap the gifts right there with supplies donated by Elks and then load them into their car in an opaque bag. When done, the lodge had provided a good Christmas for 68 families with a combined 253 children. They did this with minimal staffing: the Volpes, Richelle Nickell, PER Shelagh Gombarcik, Candi Suhrheinrich, Evan Watts (Legacy Scholarship winner), two high school volunteers from the lodge-sponsored Club Chivalry, and non-Elk helpers Heidi and Paul and Theresa Bravo. There were still a couple hundred toys left Sunday night. Rita Smith and Bonnie Atwood gathered 80 toys to take to the Christmas tent run by Metropolitan Ministries, one of Tampa’s largest charities for families with children.
PER Shelagh Gombarcik unloading gifts
Happy mother selecting gifts
Two ladies wrapping gifts
Patty Volpe handling paperwork
On Jan. 23, Seminole Elks Lodge #2519 donated its Elks National Foundation Spotlight and Beacon grants along with the Florida State Elks’ matching Beacon Grant for a total of $9,000 to Santa's Angels charity in Indian Rocks, Florida. Wally Hawthorne is the founder of this organization that helps families at Christmas as well as throughout the year by providing food boxes, household supplies, and clothing and baby supplies. Hawthorne is a member of Holiday Isles Elks Lodge and was so grateful for this donation. Pictured with him is Kara Suddards, Exalted Ruler.
Rhonda Smith, PER of Holiday Isles Lodge learned from Santa's Angels of Indian Rocks, Florida, that children 8 years old and younger experiencing homelessness were living with their parents in cars and other temporary locations due to the pandemic and needed toys and clothing for Christmas. These young ages were the main focus for the gift choices. The lodge gathered 469 toys along with baby clothes, diapers, wipes, blankets and backpacks valued at $4,690 and $2,745 in cash for a total value of $7,435 by Nov. 28. When Santa's Angels came to the lodge with their truck to pick up the donations, the amount of the donations was too large for the truck and they sent three SUVs Nov. 29 to pick up the rest. Pictured are Rhonda Smith, PER, project chair; Wally Hawthorne, Santa’s Angels vice president; and Mike Brown, Santa’s Angels president.
For more than six years, Tampa Lodge has partnered with Open Arms Ministry and used its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant to provide an early Sunday morning Thanksgiving dinner to community members experiencing homelessness. This year provided several challenges to accomplishing this, but the determination of Tampa Elks to help those in need powered them through to find a solution. First, the meals this year had to be picked up instead of sharing the meals together. Second, neither kitchen at the lodge or ministry was available to use the weekend before Thanksgiving. After a Zoom meeting between lodge members and their Open Arms partners, it was decided that instead of cooking, the Elks would provide each recipient a gift card to Publix which has a deli. Members purchased 85 Thanksgiving greeting cards and on Nov. 12, they wrote messages of support in each one. Third, the lodge had to close for two weeks due to COVID-19 cases which caused the delivery of the gift cards to fall through. The gift cards were eventually located and retrieved from the FedEx office just in time for them to be inserted in the greeting cards and distributed Nov. 29. “Our warm-hearted mother-daughter team, Courtney Weil, PER and Cristina Sanchez, were at the Open Arms Ministry by 7 a.m. on Sunday morning,” says Rita Smith, project manager. They handed each attendee a card as they signed in. Despite multiple obstacles, Tampa Elks persisted to make sure that those who needed a meal could still get one.
Pictured are Christina Sanchez and Courtney Weil, PER handing out the cards.
Betty Orcutt, Ladies of Elks President, and Sue Moore are pictured with personalized cards.
On Nov. 9, St. Petersburg Lodge and its chef, John Bauer, hosted Boy Scout Troop 209. Twelve boys and four adult leaders were present. The scouts are currently working on their cooking merit badge. Requirements for this badge are health and safety, nutrition, cooking basics, cooking at home, camp cooking, and trail and backpacking meals. Bauer educated the boys on the proper way to prepare, cook and clean chicken and vegetables (onions, carrots and potatoes) with a sauce. Afterward, the boys sat down to dinner and enjoyed the meal they prepared. Pictured during the lesson are Boy Scouts Calvin Stroup, John Lampman and Thomas Orsoni.
On Sept. 24, St. Petersburg Elks Lodge #1224 donated $2,000 from its Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant to the Kind Mouse Productions Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida, that assists children in Pinellas County with food insecurities and chronic hunger. This is the lodge’s third donation to this organization because the lodge has an ongoing commitment to making it as easy as possible for Kind Mouse volunteers to get food to children impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Kind Mouse feeds children on weekends, but because of the pandemic, they have increased their services to a weekly basis which also sometimes includes food for the parents. Pictured are Dawn Elaine Lieber, PER, grant writer; Gina Wilkins, president and founder of The Kind Mouse; and Dan Masi, Leading Knight and liaison to The Kind Mouse.
On Oct. 27, on behalf of St. Petersburg Elks Lodge #1224, lodge member Kat Chaplin visited the offices of Music Sweet Music Inc. (MSM) to deliver a quilt that she spent many hours making for MSM’s Facebook fundraiser. The handmade queen-size quilt valued at $379 featured a uniquely designed military-theme. In the center of the quilt was an eagle in flight looking at three soldiers. Each edge of the quilt named a military branch of service — Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. Chaplin also donated a double-sided fleece throw for the silent auction fundraiser valued at $75. Pictured with Chaplin is Ted Wagner, lodge member and MSM president and founder Ted Wagner.
In October, red ribbons were passed out to Tampa Elks Lodge members to wear to promote Red Ribbon Month. The last week in October was Drug Awareness Week. Tampa Lodge #708 partnered with two elementary schools, Lanier Elementary and West Shore Elementary, to promote Red Ribbon Week and to give back to the community. Volunteers had not yet been approved to visit Tampa’s elementary schools, so the lodge gave each school 250 Drug Awareness coloring books to use while teaching the students to "Be a Hero and Say No to Drugs." Each school was also given 300 red ribbons to pass out to the students to wear during Red Ribbon Week. Pictured are Loyd “Tommy” Moore, Drug Awareness Chair, and Linda Drawdy, West Shore Elementary principal.
To help give children the tools they need to succeed, St. Petersburg Lodge members donated school supplies including backpacks, pens and pencils, notebooks, crayons, handwriting paper, watercolors, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, highlighters, supply boxes, dividers, tissues, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes. On Sept. 16, the supplies were distributed to three neighboring schools — Azalea Elementary School, Westgate Elementary School and Pinellas Park Middle School. Each school received over $250 worth of supplies for teachers and students. Pictured in the first photo are Yaritza Ramos, Azalea Elementary’s office liaison; Jan Giallourakis, lodge member; and Brian Denson, head of plant operations for Azalea Elementary. Pictured in the second photo are Susan Baker, Westgate Elementary’s community liaison, and Kirk Martin, Inner Guard. Doc Cook, Exalted Ruler and Pinellas Park Middle School science teacher, is pictured in his classroom.
During July and August, Holiday Isles Elks Lodge #1912 started the wishing well food drive for local charities and local veterans’ administration programs. Sandra Gann, Joan May and Larry Schear are the Elks volunteers who handle collection and delivery of the items. As of Aug. 17, over 100 pounds of food have been delivered to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, which provides food, shelter and health care to the community. In addition, approximately $1,000 worth of food, calibrated for backpacks, has been provided to the Ready for Life program in Largo, Florida. This program helps children who have aged out of foster care. Also, $850 worth of food and $650 of clothing was provided to the Bay Pines Veterans Administration in St. Petersburg for their Veterans’ Donation Center for families and for the veterans’ outreach efforts. Pictured are the wishing wells that are placed outside the lodge on Tuesdays and Saturdays for drop-off of nonperishable food.
Tampa Elks Lodge #708 has adopted 1.1 miles of Himes Avenue from Gandy Boulevard to Bay Avenue as part of the Mayor’s Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful program. This participation was initiated by Melissa Bertoch, lodge chaplain. Their first cleanup was held Aug. 15; nine members each collect an average of 1.5 bags of trash. Firefighters at the station on this route and neighbors were thankful for the cleanup. Bertoch is pictured with Rita Smith and Theresa Seibert, PDD.