It should come as no surprise that the need for generosity and giving has reached new heights in 2020.
That has certainly been the experience of the Tualatin Valley Elks Lodge, which recently undertook its biggest ever Christmas gift and food distribution drive. The weeklong effort wrapped up Saturday, Dec. 19, with the boxing of nearly 140 packages. These included toys and food for delivery that afternoon to Tualatin families with children. Elks’ members who took part said it is the single largest holiday drive they can recall.
“COVID aside, as far as this year, the number of families we’re serving is higher than ever before, and I think it’s incredibly obvious,” said Melanie Broderick, a past Lodge President. “People have been responsive as far as stepping up and helping out with different things, more so than ever.”
Starting just after 8 a.m. that Saturday, over 60 masked and gloved volunteers gathered at the Tualatin Valley Elks Lodge off Warm Springs Street in Tualatin to begin boxing up gifts and food. While most remained outside to assist the dozens of volunteer delivery drivers as they arrived to load their vehicles, around 20 other volunteers could be found inside the lodge methodically packing bags of toys destined for children of all ages, food boxes containing a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables and other packaged goods.
“It’s very important to us,” past Lodge President Ron Netter said, surveying the assembly of food boxes. “We debated whether we were just going to go to gift cards like a lot of other organizations are doing, or if we were going to stay with what we were doing, and we all voted that we wanted to stay with this.”
The Tualatin Valley Elks Lodge was created in the 1990s with the merger of the former Lake Oswego and Multnomah Village lodges. Therefore, the Lake Oswego Fire Department continues to play a key role in toy collection, which they have carried out for the Elks for decades. This year was no different.
“A couple of days ago you couldn’t have gotten into this room,” Netter said. “We filled almost 140 boxes and we had 100 and some all ready to go out the door. It’s very important for the community because there are so many families that are in dire need.”
That decision was not without pushback, added Chris Crowder, the Lodge’s current Exalted Ruler.
“I think there are a lot of traditionalists here, too,” Crowder said. “So we kept it to a minimum inside and kept most people out. Normally we would do this in about three days, but we kind of stretched it out over the last week so we could minimize the number of folks working inside.”
On the Monday before the event, volunteers picked up donated canned food. Then on Wednesday, toys were dropped off by the fire department, while more food donations were received, including roughly $6,000 worth of fresh produce delivered all the way from Amity by the Perrydale High School Future Farmers of America group.
While toy collection is done over the course of the year, both by the fire department and by individual donors, the work of organizing the annual holiday drive really gets going in the fall. It all culminates in December with an all-out effort by Lodge members to provide a memorable Christmas experience for families, and especially children, who are short on money or other resources. A highlight each year is provided by local Boy Scouts; this year, nearly 50 Scouts from four Troops took part in helping deliver gifts.
The other thing that doesn’t change is the exhaustion from the sheer effort involved.
“We’re going to crash tonight,” said longtime member and Loyal Knight Jan Stuemke. “We start right after Christmas time buying toys on sale to be frugal, so it’s kind of an all-year-long thing.”
This year’s toy collection even came down to the last minute when organizers noticed a shortage of gifts for older children, including teens.
“I said, ‘We’re going to have to go shopping,’ and people in the lodge here started throwing 20-dollar bills on the table,” Stuemke said. “My daughter went running out to Target and came back with $225 worth of more gifts. The Gods shined down on us and we had just enough to fill the order. We were amazed.”
Netter spearheaded the organization of this year’s drive, which was a new role for him following the passing in August of longtime organizer Carroll Gorg.
“Ron, who was very close with Carroll, took over this year and has done an exemplary job starting from scratch,” Lodge Vice President C.J. McNulty said. “He really didn’t know the drill, but he learned on the fly and he had a lot of help.”
Some of that help came from familiar faces. Carroll Gorg’s widow, Roberta, found that staying involved in the holiday drive has helped make her first holiday season in 59 years without her husband a little easier to bear.
“He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February and he passed in August,” Roberta said. “And in the interim we had figured that we needed to turn over this Christmas event to someone else.”
Carroll was known as something of a whiz with spreadsheets, and used his tech knowledge to efficiently organize the Christmas drive each year. In 2020, however, this was just one more casualty of a lost year.
“I was always in charge of the toys, so I was able to pass along that knowledge,” Roberta said. “But they were kind of going into it blind with the computer work.”
But after being involved in the event for over 40 years, there was plenty of institutional knowledge for her to share. In the end, simply being asked to help out was enough to make the event a success for Roberta.
“I was pleased to be invited, but it’s completely different,” she said. “But we say that my husband is in heaven smiling down on us, and he was here today. The lodge meant a lot to him. He was very involved, and you won’t find a lodge that does any better on Christmas baskets than this lodge.”