In March 2020, Tampa Elks Lodge #708 had to cancel the community “Suds and Stories” project they had planned with their 2019 Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant because of COVID restrictions. More than a year later, they carried out a different version of the event with the approval of the Elks National Foundation. They partnered with Current Initiatives, a 501(c)(3) organization that offers free laundry events all over the country. The local representative made it very easy and explained that all they had to do was show up at 5821 Laundry in Tampa, Florida, with the supplies and quarters and five or six volunteers. On April 29 they assisted 13 families using 44 washers with the equivalent of 176 single loads. They provided pre-spray, liquid fabric softener, detergent pods, dryer sheets, laundry baskets or laundry bags, and hangers. Volunteers unloaded and loaded laundry from cars, bicycles and wagons and folded loads of clothes for the busiest customers. They also put $315.25 worth of quarters into machines. Clients included a man experiencing homelessness who had one small bag of laundry and a single parent who had so much laundry and bedding to wash that she couldn’t fit it and her kids in her car together so she had to make two trips. The remaining quarters and leftover supplies were donated to the Current Initiative Laundry Project to hold another laundry day. Lodge volunteers were Robert Bordonaro; Susie Harlow, PLP; Peggi Tuttle; Betty Orcutt, PLP; Bonnie Atwood; Paula Rousselle, Loyal Knight; Rita Smith, Leading Knight; and Andrew Watt, Elks National Foundation Legacy Scholarship recipient and grandson of Ted Bass.
Pictured are Bordonaro, Tuttle, Smith, Watts, Harlow and Orcutt.
On April 13, Brandon Elks Lodge #2383 and Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, co-sponsored a homeless initiative outreach at the church. The lodge used approximately $700 from its $4,000 Elks National Foundation Impact Grant for hygiene items and food supplies as well as the luncheon provided for the attendees. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it had been more than a year since there was an outreach, and the community was ready and welcoming. The lodge’s Bags of Brotherly Love program helped with this event and distributed 125 bags of needed items to attendees experiencing homelessness. An additional 30 bags were given to the church to be distributed at the following day’s meal, and there were 36 bags given to sheriff’s deputies and law enforcement officers with the Tampa Police Department to carry in their vehicles in case the need arises for one for a client.
Lodge member Ed Campbell and his girlfriend, Elaine, worked the clothing table with the church's volunteers. Endorsed Southwest Central District Deputy, Sharon Hammersla, worked with Monica Rodriguez of Care Plus at the table handing out the Bags of Brotherly Love provisions. Care Plus, which is part of the Humana insurance company and is located in Tampa, donated water and items to include in the bags. They plan to donate water and drawstring bags for the next outreach as well. Lodge member Kathy Eldridge supplied baseball caps to be used for a future project that Hammersla and Robin Rutkze, Lodge Veterans Chair, have coordinated for veterans. Exalted Ruler Jim McCleary and his wife, Lara, took time out of their workday to join this event for a few hours to help distribute the bags and also escorted several of the attendees while they picked out their choice of clothing at the clothing tables.
In addition to member donations, Bags of Brotherly Love receives donations of food, socks and hygiene items from fellow partners for the homeless which help continue the mission of bringing dignity back to the lives of those less fortunate. Program founders, Bob and Elisa Blair, are appreciative of all who make donations to take on this much-needed project to show that “Elks Care – Elks Share.” The program also donates bags to organizations such as Gracepoint and DAACO that help the homeless population with housing and food assistance along with other necessary needs. Bob Blair adds, “During this COVID crisis when everything was supposedly shut down, we had more calls for our Bags of Brotherly Love bags from more new agencies and organizations that our grant monies are nearly depleted from just filling requests and making bags to distribute. I love what I do helping to bring dignity back into the lives of those less fortunate. I used to be one of those less fortunate, and God blessed me with another chance at life, and so I pay it forward every chance I get.”
To read more about Bags of Brotherly Love and how it got its start, please visit floridaelks.org/magazine and view the Spring 2017 issue.
Pictured are Bob Blair and Sharon Hammersla; Ed Cambell, Lara McCleary and Jim McCleary; and a church volunteer guiding an attendee to the showers. Lodge members Monica Rodriguez, Lara McCleary, Sharon Hammersla and Bob Blair display one of the bags.
On April 3, Sebring Elks Lodge #1529 held a membership drive during the annual Sebring Downtown Soda Fest, which is put on by the city. The lodge shared what Elks do while supporting a local event. Members Buddy Richards and Billy Brown set up the Florida State Elks tent at 7:30 a.m. Members Melissa Stockenberg and Diane Morse along with Wainetta Holmes, Exalted Ruler, staffed the tent from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Members Rob Lipscomb and Tim Plant remained to be the clean-up crew. There was much activity at the tent and the lodge got plenty of positive exposure as their displays showed what Elkdom does locally, statewide and nationally. Applications and brochures were distributed, and the lodge advertised their fishing tournament to entice more entrants and sponsorships.
Pictured are Stockenberg and Morse with a stilt entertainer and Stockenberg and Holmes at the tent.
On Feb. 20, Orlando Elks Lodge #1079 presented the Lighthouse of Central Florida with $3,500 from the Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant. This donation will go directly toward helping provide financial assistance and specific rehabilitation to residents in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties who live with blindness or vision loss. Lighthouse of Central Florida is a private nonprofit organization and is one of the few, if only, only nationally accredited comprehensive providers of vision rehabilitation service that can begin with infants and continue through adulthood. Some of the programs they offer are early intervention and developmental support for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers; experience and skill building for K through eighth grade classrooms; teen programs for workforce and college prep; independent living skills for adults and seniors; and assistive technology and Braille training. The lodge also helps in their fundraising efforts. On March 27, Orlando Elks received a plaque of appreciation for their participation in their fundraising marathon.
Pictured at the check presentation are Beatrice Lopez Masso and Georgiana Tymes of the Lighthouse of Central Florida; Aubie Dingwell, trustee; and Ralph Bemos, acting Exalted Ruler.
Pictured at the plaque presentation are Millie Dewitz, Doe; Lillian Velez, Orlando Does president; Rob Dewitz, Chaplain; and Georgina Tymes of Lighthouse.
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.