On June 20, U.S. Navy veteran Ron Czarnick swims with Stormy the dolphin at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, Florida. He was sponsored by the Florida Keys Elks Lodge Vets on the Water program; they used some of their Elks National Foundation Impact Grant. Vets on the Water has sponsored 422 active military, veterans and reservists to date. Theater of the Sea is the second oldest marine park in the United States.
In May, Judy Wise, Plant City Elks Lodge member and District Veterans Services Chair, was contacted by the local National Guard which is aware of the Elks support of and dedication to veterans. The National Guard was asking for help through the Elks Army of Hope for veteran Sergeant Danial Windspirit. Ironically, they were requesting financial support for one of the soldiers previously in Plant City Lodge’s adopted unit that was commissioned to Afghanistan two years ago. Sergeant Windspirit returned home safely from Afghanistan and was successful in starting an excavation business in Ruskin, Florida, and was living a great life with his wife, Rebecca, and their three children. On May 16, he was in an accident while driving home on his motorcycle. An uninsured motorist pulled out in front of him, causing him to lose his left leg. He has since gone through seven operations. Fortunately their bills were current; however, June was going to be a challenge. Nancy Lay, Military and Family Readiness Specialist for the Florida National Guard Family Programs, contacted the lodge asking for financial help on the family’s behalf. They needed $2,948.34 to cover their June living expenses and bills. Wise, who was just presented the Veterans Volunteer of the Year award at the Florida Elks state convention, jumped in and prepared all the necessary paperwork, as this is what the Army of Hope is all about – supporting veterans in financial times of need. Wise requested and received approval for $3,500 to cover other expenses. In the interest of time and so that the check could be deposited immediately to their account to cover their automatic withdrawals for June, Wise presented the check to Rebecca in the parking lot of their credit union in Ruskin, Florida, June 3. Sergeant Windspirit had previously purchased an insurance policy through the National Guard that will also help take care of the family, but the required paperwork and delays due to the pandemic presented a real problem and time was of the essence. Sergeant Windspirit is home and receiving outpatient rehabilitation every day, and they are very thankful for the Florida Elks’ assistance.
Aripeka Lodge’s Veterans Committee has a container by the lodge entrance for members to drop off clothing that will be donated to the Vietnam Veterans of America Association. Their local chapter is in New Port Richey, Florida. On May 21, Tom Carlo, lodge committee chair, delivered approximately $3,000 worth of clothing that had been collected.
Even though Aripeka Elks Lodge #2520 has been closed since March, the Veterans Committee reached out to Steps to Recovery to see if they needed anything. Ken Clark of Steps to Recovery indicated they were short on food supplies since their VA funding had been drastically cut. So, with funds from the lodge’s veterans’ program, they provided $585 worth of groceries from Sam’s Club. Pictured in early May is Tom Carlo, chair of the Veterans Committee, with the load of food he delivered in his own truck.
On June 18, West Palm Beach Elks Lodge members James (Rabbi) King and Elaine Maes-Morey, Exalted Ruler, met with Morningday Community Solutions representative Bruce Bussard and Operation120 representative Ronette Verhaeghe to purchase items for homeless female veterans transitioning to new homes. Funds spent were from the lodge’s Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant of $2,000 at $250 per client. Morningday Community Solutions provides essential items to local nonprofit organizations for the underprivileged, youth and veterans. Operation 120 is an organization that serves female veterans.
Florida Keys Elks Lodge #1872 presented a Purple Heart reserved parking sign to Jupiter Lodge in memory of Dennis Kroll, a member of Key West Elks Lodge #551 and a veteran who had two Purple Hearts. Ruth and Lee Huenniger who are members of Florida Keys Lodge purchased these signs in his honor and donated one to Jupiter Lodge and one to Florida Keys Lodge. Pictured are Lee Huenniger, Bill Jackson, Jupiter Trustee; Dave Vertullo, Jupiter Exalted Ruler; Ruth Huenniger; Donald Shedlock, Jupiter Trustee; and Steve Brancazio, Jupiter Leading Knight.
The Lake City Elks Lodge Veterans Committee chaired by Captain Michael Lydick has been helping residents of the Lake City VA Medical Center and the Robert H. Jenkins Veterans Domiciliary Home for many years. While the facilities provide the necessities, the lodge provides the additional things that help to elevate daily life. Prior to the pandemic, the lodge would also provide outings to football, baseball and hockey games; rodeos; zoos; and truck shows. With the new restrictions, entertainment must now be provided within the facilities. Using lodge funds of about $2,000 and a $5,000 grant obtained by Lydick from the Suwannee Valley Community Foundation, the lodge provided the VAMC and domiciliary a variety of recreational items and materials requested by residents including several arcade games, an Xbox One S game console with multiple controllers and games, and a 65” TV. Craft rooms in both facilities were provided leather crafting supplies and leather hobby kits and plastic model car, boat and airplane kits. Batteries were provided for residents’ personal devices as well. A wide range of personal hygiene products were also provided. Pictured June 24 at the VA hospital entrance since visitors were not allowed inside are Michael Lydick, Lodge and District Veterans Chair; Michael Carey, Assistant Chief of Voluntary Services at the Lake City VA Medical Center; Karie Yates and Ben Givens, hospital employees in the recreation department; and Daniel Crapps with Suwannee Valley Community Foundation.
West St. Lucie Elks Lodge members and a few non-members went to work during the pandemic and made 150 blankets for the new Ardie R. Copas State Veterans’ Home which is set to open later this year in the Port St. Lucie community of Tradition, Florida. Approximately 12 people participated and everyone purchased their own supplies. Others donated money for supplies as well. Pictured June 27 at the lodge are Vanessa Murtague, Betty Quinn, Wayne from United Vets, Rose Taynor and veteran Danny Bogan.
The lodges of the South Southeast District came together to assist U.S. Navy veteran Kenneth Mueller. Mueller, who served on the destroyer USS Conyngham, uses a wheelchair and had difficulty getting in and out of his home. Boca Raton Lodge member John Allsopp met with him and approached the district for help. The lodges in the district – Boca Raton #2166, Delray Beach #1770, Hollywood West #2365, Oakland Park #2407 and Pompano Beach #1898 – pooled resources to fund and build him a ramp. Boca Raton Lodge members John Allsopp and Tim Hallman built and installed the ramp. Mueller thanks the efforts of the lodge members.
On May 8, Elks Riders from Delray Beach Elks Lodge #1770 raised $500 for charity from their curbside pickup dinner. The group paid for the food and cooked some of it as well. The proceeds will go to a veterans’ organization of their choosing but they are waiting until the lodge reopens to make the decision. Pictured are Janelle Antoine; Patrick Keegan; Crystal Cirminiello; Jeff Cirminiello; Chris Aielo, Loyal Knight; and Roger Cope, Leading Knight.
Brandon Elks Lodge #2383 came through once again for the veterans living at Liberty Manor for Veterans in Tampa, Florida. Because there are 18 veterans who reside here, only those who wake up at 6 a.m. were lucky enough to get some ice for the day, or they would have to put some in a bag labeled with their name and store it. Because lodge members cook often for the veterans, they saw the need for an electric ice maker and purchased one for them using $856.95 of their Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant. The ice machine was delivered and Dave Lindsay, husband of founder Connie Lindsay, installed it. The veterans can now access ice any time of day. Pictured May 18 with the new machine are veterans Art Gardiner and David “Wolf” Peacock. The mission of Liberty Manor for Veterans Inc. is “to promote the developmental and social needs of disabled and honorably discharged veterans who have fallen victim to homelessness providing transitional supported housing and establishing objectives designed to attribute to self-sufficiency.”
Viera Elks Lodge #2817 continued their support of local veterans by providing furniture to six veterans – four in March and two in June – transitioning to permanent housing. The program is VOA/SSVF (Volunteers of America/Supportive Services for Veterans Families) Transitional Housing Program. The $600 was from the lodge’s Elks National Foundation Focus Grant. In addition, the lodge spent $933 from its Elks National Foundation Spotlight Grant for crockpots and food for another 25 veterans in the same time period. Additionally, the lodge used funds from its Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant to further support local veterans by purchasing a mattress June 4 for $200 and providing rental assistance of $325 June 16.