On Jan. 13, Matthew Smith, a single father and U.S. Navy veteran, was involved in a motorcycle accident. While attempting to make a left turn, the driver of the vehicle behind him failed to properly maintain control of his vehicle, striking Smith from behind and totaling his bike. Over the last seven months, he has endured four neck surgeries, a knee surgery, and many physical therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments. Due to the demand of his treatment, he has been unable to provide for his daughter, Shayla, and his son, Braiden. The battle still continues for the next few months and there is a real need for help and support for a man who has fallen on hard times due to circumstances beyond his control.
On Sunday, Sept. 2, a fundraiser on his behalf was held at the Strawberry Patch in Plant City. Elks Ron Johns, Kenny Goodwien and Mark Edelman attended the event and presented him with a $500 check from Plant City Lodge. An additional $1,100 was donated out of their pockets for a 50/50 raffle and auction. Ron Johns won the 50/50 raffle and donated his proceeds back to Smith. Donations will be used to handle monthly expenses (rent, bills, food), medical supplies that are not otherwise provided, fuel for trips to and from doctor's appointments, and physical therapy.
Pictured at the Matthew Smith fundraiser are Mark Edelman, Kenny Goodwien, Ed Lefler (Strawberry Patch owner), Matthew Smith and Ron Johns.
On July 17, Gainesville Elks Lodge #990 hosted 40 veterans who were transitioning from homelessness into their own residences. The lodge used the Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant paired with the 150th Anniversary Grant and state matching funds to purchase all needed items for the veterans to set up their homes. Purchases ranged from cleaning supplies to pots and pans, dishes, towels, blankets, and a wide variety of household and kitchen appliances. Veterans and their HUDVASH social workers were invited for lunch and veterans were given “play money” to purchase the items they needed. This will be a continuing project for Gainesville Lodge as the number of homeless veterans in the area is increasing.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, the West Citrus Lodge Veterans Committee donated an American flag to Crystal Gem Manor Assisted Living Facility. Many of the residents gathered outside to watch the Elks take down the faded and tattered old flag and replace it with a bright new one. As the new flag was raised, they all joined in with the Pledge of Allegiance. Many residents were excited and thanked the committee members.
West Citrus Lodge Veterans Committee members Jack McKowen, Jack Stewart and Bill Dennington replace Crystal Gem’s old flag with a new one.
Angel is an Army veteran who needed a little help getting her new apartment ready in time for her child’s arrival from D.C. Tampa Elks were able to come through for her in a big way. First were the bags of items and the microwave that Angel chose from the lodge’s free thrift store for the domiciliary veterans. Then there were school clothes provided by several members. Towels, linens, accessories such as purses, some energy-efficient light bulbs, and a few month’s supply of sanitary products also found their way to her doorstep. She also received the extra school supplies from the lodge’s children’s party. When it was time to go shopping, Angel knew what her biggest remaining need was – a television for her 17-year-old’s bedroom. She also picked up some laundry supplies, paper goods and even a few candles.
The Elks’ Welcome Home program of the Elks National Veterans Service Commission is really making a difference to some previously homeless veterans in the Tampa community.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, St. Petersburg Lodge donated the use of its hall to Bay Pines VA Healthcare System to hold their Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) graduation program. Two veterans graduated from the program while 54 guests watched in the audience. There were 46 veterans and a staff member present from Bay Pines VAHS for this special occasion along with seven Elks who attended this event to witness the achievements of these two graduates. PPRC assists veterans who have significant functional impairment such as PTSD and other persistent mental illnesses with developing the skills needed to be successful in living, working, learning or socializing in the community once they are out of the military. Their recovery will be an ongoing journey.
Punta Gorda Elks Lodge held a country and western dance Sunday, Sept. 17, to raise funds to support the Parade of Heroes. Each year for Veterans Day weekend, the lodge sends veterans to Washington, D.C. This year, plans are to send five former service members, including two World War II veterans, for three days. The dance raised $3,712.57.
Each year, West Citrus Elks Lodge #2693 hosts a breakfast for the Arron A. Weaver Chapter 776 Military Order of the Purple Heart. This year, the lodge was proclaimed a Purple Heart lodge. Designation as a Purple Heart entity is reserved for organizations that have exhibited noteworthy patriotic support of our nation's armed forces, its veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Presenting the Purple Heart lodge proclamation and plaque to West Citrus Lodge are Cmdr. Richard Allen (left) and Sergeant at Arms, Rick Allen (right). Accepting the proclamation and plaque are Jean Buck-Newhouse and Joann Hepner, co-chairmen of the Veterans Committee; and Brian Estus, Exalted Ruler.
New member Lisa Celentano arranged the dirty dozen canoe race held at Sebring Lodge’s water’s edge Saturday, Sept. 1. The lodge made money on parking and pulled pork sandwiches. Setup was in full swing by 7:30 a.m. with the first of three races starting at 10 a.m. Lodge members volunteered with parking, cooking, working in the dining room, setup and cleanup, and the ROTC from Sebring High School helped with setup and parking. Vendors attended the event as well, and there was a tent that displayed Elks information. Music was provided by a DJ and the national anthem was sung as PER George Quel presented the flag. Approximately 90 canoeists, both new and experienced, participated. Proceeds were given to Folds of Honor, an organization that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled servicemembers while serving our nation.
Kissimmee Lodge sent volunteers to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games Tuesday, July 31. Pictured are members Cyn Zellner, Bob Barry and Fran Barry who were at the games at the Orange County Convention Center. Cyn Zellner and Fran Barry also volunteered at Gatorland Saturday, Aug. 4. Member Billy DeLuca volunteered Aug. 4 at the Convention Center. According to wheelchairgames.org, the games are sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The games serve veterans with spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, amputations and other central neurological impairments with the goal to increase their independence, healthy activity, and quality of life through wheelchair sports and recreation. Veterans are being exposed to wheelchair sports at their home VAMC or PVA Chapters as part of their rehabilitation to improve function, independence and getting them active in their home communities in sport and fitness.” Some events included basketball, softball, swimming, cycling and power lifting.
Vero Beach Elks Lodge #1774 held their annual Father’s Day car show! Along with good food and great cars, over $1,100 was raised for Vero Beach veterans.
On July 30, 15 veterans from the VA hospital in Miami visited Florida Keys Elks Lodge #1872 for lunch and bingo as one of their recreational outings. Volunteers from the Elks provided a tasty lunch and prizes for a few games of bingo. The local Girl Scouts gave gifts of sun catchers, thank-you posters and cards which they had made. The veterans also received t-shirts donated by an Elks member.
On July 20, Tampa Elks Lodge #708 hosted 10 veterans for dinner from the James A. Haley VA Domiciliary, a transitional facility for veterans experiencing homelessness. They enjoyed selecting their made-to-order specialty sandwiches from PER Shelagh Gombarcik and Laura Jones and listening to live music from Limestone Cowboy. The veterans were also treated to a free thrift store where they could fill bags of items they could use when they are rehoused. The lodge’s Veterans Committee, chaired by Patricia Jankiewicz, hosted the event.