Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forget the Beaver State, Oregon is the Elk State: Part 1

 by Senior Programs Associate Mary Morgan

Elks National Foundation Programs Associate Colleen Muszynski and I recently had the chance to visit with some Elks on the West Coast. Here’s a recap of Part 1 of our trip.
Enjoying a sunny lunch in Portland!

As Colleen and I flew out of Chicago early on a Thursday morning, I dreamed of fresh mountain air, sunshine and temperatures above 15 degrees. I was not disappointed, as we lucked into a warm and sunny Oregon weekend. Locals kept insisting that the weather was like this all the time, but something about the way they said it left me suspicious of their claim. 

We landed in Portland, and immediately shook off our winter coats. We picked up a rental car at the airport and cruised into the city for lunch. We enjoyed sandwiches on the patio, stopped in Powell’s Books for some reading material and wandered in the sunshine for a bit. Then, with sustenance for our bodies and minds, we began our journey to Coos Bay, Oregon.
Sharon Kolkhorst with the Share Bear himself!

We were headed there to check out the Coos Bay Elks’ long-running ENF Impact Grant project, Weekend Share Bear Snack Packs. For the past seven years, the Lodge has assembled 750 snack packs each week for local students in need. Thanks to the Impact Grant and their own ongoing fundraising, Elks buy the supplies for 73 of these packs each week, and deliver them to the students at Madison Elementary School in Coos Bay.

The four-hour drive from Portland was a beautiful one—sunny, green and idyllic, with animals grazing alongside the road and snow-topped mountains in the distance. We arrived in Coos Bay just as night fell and the full moon over the water led us right into town. We checked into our rooms and prepared for our big day of filming on Friday.
Sharon and Lou unload groceries for the snack packs.

Bright and early on Friday morning, we met the Lodge’s fearless project manager Sharon Kolkhorst and her partner in crime service Lou Kolkhorst at the local school. We also met up with cameraman extraordinaire Billy, other project volunteers, and a photographer from the Elks partner organization Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA). (More on Joe the photographer later). Together, we headed into Madison Elementary School to meet with Principal Jan Schock, who shared with us how much the project was helping hungry students at her school. School was out for the day, so we sat in the library and discussed the importance of the Elks’ work, surrounded by children’s books and in the company of Madison Elementary School’s pet turtle, frog and tarantula. (The tarantula was 14 years old!)

After we caught Jan on film talking about the program, we headed to the ORCCA headquarters to film the Elks in action. Only half of the usual crew was there, but they were a sight to behold. Ten Elks surrounded a table covered with boxes and speedily filled a few hundred bags of supplies in just a few minutes, showing off their fine-tuned snack-packing prowess. It was a sight Henry Ford would have been proud of. Billy caught it all on film, deftly moving around the room to catch different angles with hardly a minute of preparation. They say he’s the fastest cameraman in the West. After the action, some the volunteers were kind enough to share their thoughts about the project on film. Included in this fine group of volunteers were four high school students, who stopped by on their day off to meet us and tell us about their work.

Through a service program at the local school, these four high school seniors and their friends raise thousands of dollars for the Snack Pack project each year. They also take over the packing duties each November and December, offering the Elks a well-deserved break.

After the filming wrapped up, the whole group of us decamped to the Coos Bay Elks Lodge for lunch. There, Colleen and I met more volunteers and Lodge members, and ate our fill. We also talked with Joe, the ORCCA photographer and cameraman, who’d spent the last three years working as a cameraman for the TV show Portlandia. He offered some insider information about our upcoming trip to the city.

After lunch, it was back to the open roads for us, as we were Portland-bound. We were sad to go, but Sharon and Lou ensured that we didn’t go hungry—we were sent off with some delicious cookies from a local bakery.

We don’t get to visit our grant projects nearly as often as we’d like, but when we do it is always wonderful to see the good that ENF-funded projects do in Elks communities. In that regard, the trip was a big success and I returned to Chicago refreshed and reenergized, ready to close out the 2014-15 CIP year and prepare for the next.

How was the drive to Portland? What happened on the next two days of our trip? Check out Part 2.

A 501(c)(3) public charity, the Elks National Foundation helps Elks build stronger communities through programs that support youth, serve veterans, and meet needs in areas where Elks live and work. The ENF helps Lodges serve their communities in significant and ongoing ways by awarding Impact Grants of up to $10,000. Any Lodge can apply for these competitive grants. To find out more about Impact Grants and the Community Investments Program, visit www.elks.org/enf/community.

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