Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Little Service Sunshine

by Alexa Vaghenas
2016 Most Valuable Student Scholar, Yale University


College students often become enclosed in a sort of "bubble" over the course of four years, wrapped up in their studies and social lives, preoccupied by extracurricular activities and on-campus events. Although this can lead to individual growth, unforgettable experiences, and admirable accomplishment, too often we forget about the greater community around us. On Friday November 18, I volunteered at the New Haven Sunrise Cafe for Elks Scholar Service Days. A freshman at Yale University, I knew it was time to pop the "Yale Bubble" and give back to the small city of New Haven; my new home.

As a Sunrise Cafe volunteer, I was tasked with serving breakfast to the homeless. Shifting my sleep schedule a bit to get up at 6:45 on a Friday morning, I walked several blocks to the basement of St. Paul and St. James Episcopal Church and followed the cheery logo of the Sunrise Cafe. In the kitchen, a small but mighty assembly line of students was gathered around the tables of pancakes, sausage, cereal, granola bars, fresh bananas, orange juice, and freshly blended fruit smoothies. Our job was to match the food to the customer's order and then pass the tray along to the waitress, who would officially gift these men and women with their free and healthy breakfast. At some moments, the orders came in so quickly we forgot to pour milk into the cereal! At other moments, the rate at which the pancakes and sausages could be cooked held us back, but that only gave us the opportunity to strike up pleasant conversation with the kitchen staff and surrounding volunteers. It was quite a sunny way to start my day! (Pun intended.)

Both myself and the homeless found a home Friday morning in the Sunrise Cafe. Although short-lived, by volunteering for those not fortunate enough to have a home, I found a sense of connection and community that, previously in my fall semester, had been missing. No matter what obligations we have, it is so important not to become so consumed by our individual lives that we forget to give back. Service makes us humble, genuine, and human. It is these core values that the Elks National Foundation represents, and I sincerely thank the organization for all the goodness they promote. Without them and their advocating for the Elks Scholar Service Days, who knows how long it would have taken to add a little service sunshine into my day? 

For more information about the Elks Scholar Service Days click here.

In 2016-17, the Elks National Foundation appropriated $4.2 million to fund the ENF scholarship program, which provides college scholarships, ensuring a bright future for our nation’s youth. As important parts of the Elks family, Elks scholars have many social and service opportunities to connect with the Elks and each other. For more information about our scholarship programs, and for ways Lodges can get involved with Elks scholars, visit enf.elks.org/scholarships.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

“Box Out Hunger” in Toledo

by Ashley LaFountain
2013 Legacy Scholar, University of Toledo

As part of Elks Scholar Service Days, I served in an event my community holds annually around Thanksgiving, “Box Out Hunger.” While I was the sole Elks scholar participating from the University of Toledo, it was truly amazing to see the impact I, along with nearly 400 other volunteers, were able to make in just a few hours.

“Box Out Hunger” is a service event put on by The Cherry Street Mission in Toledo, Ohio that aims to ensure that many Toledo-area residents can have a Thanksgiving meal. 

My group was assigned to a warehouse area of the mission and were each given our specific tasks for the remainder of the day. Collectively, we packed 18,000 meals. Tasks were divided into brown-bagging dry goods such as instant mashed potatoes, dressing, and separating turkeys into separate bags with the intention that each family received one bag of dry goods and one turkey. Once the items were bagged, more volunteers’ cars were loaded up to deliver meals to homes and some families with vouchers to receive meals at that time. My job was to unload turkeys from boxes and place them in their corresponding bags. Because the warehouse area was so open, I could see everyone performing their tasks while I played this small role as part of a much bigger picture. At the end of the event, everyone was all smiles and I was able to leave knowing I contributed to helping over 2,000 households in the Toledo-area celebrate their Thanksgiving with a nice meal.

Overall, the event was an awesome experience to work together with other students from my university, participate in Elks Scholar Service Days, and be a part of something larger than myself to help so many people in my community. In the upcoming weeks, I plan to continue the theme of holiday season volunteering by helping at the Port Clinton, Ohio, Lodge No. 1718, where I’m a member, with the annual Children’s Christmas Party. The Lodge comes together to ensure all children in the community have the opportunity to experience Christmas by providing games, snacks, crafts, and gifts for each child who comes to the event.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Heart of a Volunteer

by Chelsea Dennis
Programs Assistant

Last month, Colleen, Maryann and I took a trip to Elmhurst, Ill., Lodge No. 1531 to see the Lodge’s Impact Grant in action. Working with the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry and Dollar Tree, the Lodge provides hygiene and cleaning products to families in need. For many families that use food banks to supplement their meals, there is often a need for hygiene and cleaning supplies. While food banks are able to address hunger, very little is allocated for other items. Recognizing this need, the Lodge stepped in to provide supplies for 50 families monthly using the Impact Grant. 

As I helped prepare packages, many of the families spoke of how grateful they were to the Elks for providing this service and how receiving the items took pressure off their limited budgets. Prior to seeing the Lodge’s project, I was unaware that this was a need in some communities. Hearing directly from recipients opened my eyes to how small needs are often overshadowed by broader social issues. By simply providing these small yet critical resources, the Lodge indirectly improves health and education outcomes. For example, having cleaning and hygiene supplies helps people maintain healthy bodies, clean environments and reduces school absenteeism for students concerned about hygiene issues. 

Having worked at the Elks National Foundation for a little over a year now, I have read hundreds of grant applications. However, my visit to Elmhurst was my first time visiting a Lodge and seeing Elks in action. After speaking with Mike, Rita, Joan, and Margaret, members of the Lodge that are actively involved in the Impact Grant project, there is a clear passion for serving the community. Their enthusiasm for this project is a testament to the saying, 

“There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer, with it beats the spirit of service, generosity and compassion…and the health and well-being of our community, our country, and our world”—Kobi Yamada 

As we launch ourselves into the holiday season, it’s timely to reflect on all of the things we are grateful for here at the ENF. Whether Elks are serving meals to veterans experiencing homelessness or creating food baskets for families in need, we are forever grateful to the thousands of members who dedicate themselves to building stronger communities. As you prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, take a look at how Lodges are giving thanks by giving back

The Elks National Foundation helps Lodges serve their communities by offering $2,000 Gratitude Grants. Lodges are eligible to apply for Gratitude Grants after meeting the National President’s per-member goal for giving to the Foundation. In addition, Lodges that exceed 15 percent membership support last year may be eligible for a $500 bonus. To find out more about Gratitude Grants and the Community Investments Program, click here.