On Aug. 21, Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge #497 donated $2,000 from its Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant and $1,000 from the lodge charity account to AHERO (America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors), an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide of retired military personnel. Pictured are Dan Smith, Exalted Ruler, and Sandra Milburn, lodge grant coordinator, presenting the check to David Glassman, AHERO program director.
On Aug. 7, the West Citrus Elks Lodge #2693 Veterans Committee honored patriots of the Aaron A. Weaver Chapter 776 Military Order of Purple Heart by hosting the annual Purple Heart breakfast. This is the 12th year the Elks have honored fallen heroes and wounded warriors. This event commemorated the 239th anniversary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Pictured are Joanne Hepner, Veterans Chair, and Curt Ebitz of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Catherine Simkins, Titusville Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler, presents $2,500 from the lodge’s Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant Aug. 13 to George Taylor Jr., president of National Veterans Homeless Support, to help provide services for veterans needing supplies or housing support.
On July 29, Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge #2855 donated its Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant of $2,000 to Turning Points’ Yellow Ribbon Veterans Program in Bradenton, Florida. The program’s mission is to assist veterans and families through their individual needs, providing a “housing first” philosophy that is not enabling. Pictured from Turning Points are Michelle Scott; Kathleen Cramer, executive director; and Andy Guyre. Elks pictured (in blue shirts) are Deb Kehoe, Tom Sweeney, Frank Iannello, Charlotte Madar and Jack Jernigan.
As of June 30, Cocoa Beach Elks Lodge #2387 has taken 504 homeless veterans shopping for Welcome Home kits valued at $122,000 since the program began in 2016. Twice a month, a group of Elks gather at the Dollar General store at 595 N. Atlantic Ave. in Cocoa Beach. They are each paired with a veteran and shop for $300 worth of items needed to set up their household including paper products, kitchen supplies, personal hygiene items, and bed and bath linens. The store manager has been more than supportive of the efforts and is greatly appreciative. The lodge has partnered with two local veterans organizations — Volunteers of America (VOA) and Support Services for Veterans Families (SSVF). The VOA manages an 80-bed transitional housing facility which prepares veterans to move from homelessness to permanent housing. SSVF is a service of the Veteran's Administration that re-houses homeless veterans and prevents homelessness for those at imminent risk due to a housing crisis. Once the VOA and SSVF interview and screen potential veterans for eligibility, they connect them with the lodge to go shopping for needed items. Pictured June 9 after shopping are lodge members Jean Greco and Walther Little with two veterans.
On July 1, Zephyrhills Elks Lodge #2731 and the Veterans Committee furnished their 118th and 119th veterans’ homes. Mario Gallon was overwhelmed with all the furnishings for his new home. He is pictured on the right with lodge member Larry Decena. On July 19, Anthony Ferguson was surprised with all the home furnishings he received from the Lodge Veterans Committee as well. He is pictured with Ken Fabiani, PER, Veterans Committee chair.
On June 26, Sarasota South Elks Lodge #2495 participated in a Stand Down for veterans who are homeless. With funds from the Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant, they filled 96 backpacks with personal hygiene supplies, baby wipes, first aid kits, blankets, flashlights and more. The event was organized by the Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS), with more than 35 agencies participating, including Infinite Wishes, Turning Point, License on Wheels and Streets of Paradise. This was the ninth Stand Down and approximately 93 veterans attended. The goal of the event was to register as many veterans as possible with the VA and see if they are eligible for medical, dental and legal services. Veterans were also treated to food and hot showers. Pictured are lodge members Richard Bouchard, PER; Terry Haberle and Steven Coyne.
New St. Petersburg Lodge member John Kieffer, a Vietnam War veteran who led a mission that saved his combat veterans' lives, was awarded the Silver Star May 31, Memorial Day, at War Veterans Memorial Park at Bay Pines by Congressman Charlie Crist. Kieffer served as a platoon chief and was accountable for working with tanks. During a mission, a tank was attacked and he took management of the situation, which is the mission he is being acknowledged for 50 years later. During his military service, which included active and reserve duty, Kieffer attained the rank of Major. The Silver Star is the United States Armed Forces' third-highest military decoration for valor in combat and is awarded primarily for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States. The ceremony began at 10 a.m. and was open to the public; a private celebration was held at the lodge afterward.
On June 2 using the Elks National Foundation “Welcome Home” fund, Zephyrhills Lodge helped furnish veteran Gary Wayne Savage’s new home. Lodge members Ron Ellison, Larry Decena, and Ken Fabiani, PER, Veterans chair, helped with the move.
The Zephyrhills Lodge and Veterans Committee furnished two more veterans’ homes in June. Members Larry Falaas and Ken Fabiani, PER, Veterans chair, furnished the home of Donald Tailor June 11 and the home of Michael Ray Beason June 15. Beason is the 117th veteran whose home the lodge has furnished.
On June 2, the Zephyrhills Lodge Veterans Committee used grant funds from the Elks National Foundation for a “welcome home” package for veteran Merla McDaniel as she begins her life in her new home. The lodge completely furnished her home with everything from bedroom to living room to kitchen. Lodge members Larry Decena, Ron Ellison, and Ken Fabiani, PER, Veterans Chair, assisted with this project. Pictured are McDaniel and Fabiani.
P.E.S.T. Relief International (Professionals Empowering, Sustaining and Transforming), a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2013 by Andrea Hancock after a mission trip to Honduras, is comprised of professionals in the pest management industry who bring comfort and relief to those experiencing homelessness through safe shelter, nutrition, education, and physical and emotional health. On June 17, P.E.S.T. donated 100 backpacks with hygiene kits to St. Petersburg Lodge which in turn distributed them to C.W. Bill Young Veterans Hospital to issue to the veterans. The kits contained essentials such as soap, washcloth, deodorant, shaving cream and razors, toothpaste and toothbrush, socks, nutritional health bars, and a face mask. Each backpack is waterproof and may be the only item a veteran has to put their belongings into while in transition. The value of the backpacks was $2,600. Pictured are Jewels Warren of P.E.S.T.; Toni Goodrich, PDD, Lodge Secretary; and Andrea Hancock, P.E.S.T. founder.
On May 15, Armed Forces Day, Palm Coast Elks Lodge #2709 conducted a picnic to fundraise for the Florida Elks’ Army of Hope and conducted a jobs-like fair to recruit volunteers in the lodge and community. In attendance were Rudy and Dolly Masi, Florida State Elks president and first lady; Vic McClellan, Army of Hope Grants Chair, and his wife, Peggie; Melissa Holland, Palm Coast mayor; and George Hanns and Greg Hansen, county commissioners. Table were set up for the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Operations Center, Flagler Cats, and every Elks national and state major project. Also in attendance were Alexandra Perez, Florida Elks state Hoop Shoot champ, and Communications Specialist McKenzie Davis, Florida Elks’ First Responder of the Year in the Support Services category. Coastal Florida Police and Fire Pipes and Drums and the Florida Elks Drug Awareness trailer were also on hand.