By Stephanie Blake
The Eagle River Elks Lodge, #2682
Of the fifteen Elks lodges in Alaska, the Eagle River Lodge (No. 2628) has been named “Lodge of the Year” for five years running by their parent organization. It really is no wonder. The local Elks are a small army of approximately 450 members and are growing annually. They pursue service in hundreds of community efforts year-round, give generously to charities, maintain complete financial transparency, and foster a comradery that is kindled regularly as members gather for “cheap chow” on Thursdays or a beer and burger at the lodge on Friday nights. They know each other, respect each other, and are bound together in their aim to help.
The Elks club here focuses the bulk of their efforts toward assisting veterans and children. Among the support for vets they offer, their own Wounded Veteran’s Project has purchased and funded training for nine service dogs to help local veterans – at an average cost of $12,000 each. The group also hosts an annual free Veterans Day dinner and a “Single Service Member” Christmas dinner for those military men and women on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson who are without kin for the holidays. The Elks have been known to frequent the Fisher House on Base, stuffing stockings, providing holiday dinners and purchasing gifts to brighten the holidays for the patients. Local kids know our Elks. From scholarships to free dictionaries to backpacks full of supplies, to a fully-funded summer camp for the underprivileged and snacks for the Boys and Girls Club, the Eagle River Elks community is robust, engaged, and lending their muscle across our community.
The Chugiak-Eagle River Food Pantry
If you have been hungry to find a way to serve our community in a real, tangible way – alleviating true hunger at the local food pantry is an opportunity ripe for the picking. The Chugiak- Eagle River Food Pantry is a 100% volunteer-based charity, serving essential food supplies to 400-450 families per month in the Eagle River, Chugiak, Peter’s Creek and Eklutna areas. The Pantry is located within the Eagle River Presbyterian Church and has been lifting up those who have fallen on hard times for over 30 years. Remarkably, not a single “employee” receives a wage for their tireless efforts. Even Lynn Kile, the current Executive Director, cheerfully gives of his retirement years without any more in return than the satisfaction that our local families, elderly, and children have warm food in their bellies. “We have absolutely no excuse for letting people go hungry in our day and age,” he says.
The Pantry is open three weekdays for “shopping” – where individuals and families select the 20 meals they will take home, and again on Saturday for perishable donations that won’t last through the weekend. No waste is incurred. Leftover food is donated to the local senior center, the Boys and Girls Club and even the local hog and chicken farms. The roughly 10,000 pounds that leave the shelves each month are exclusively donated from individuals and businesses in the community and from funds received from the Pick.Click.Give campaign. The Pantry always needs volunteers to help sort, stock and help people gather the food they need, but especially on Fridays and over the summer. During the summer vacation, many children who eat weekly breakfasts and lunches at school are left without a source to supplement the three-month break. Shelves of the pantry get stripped bare much quicker, and local food drives taper off for the summer months of play. If you are seeking a way to help, consider organizing a food drive in July, the peak of the slump. While you’re at it, call Liz Swenson at (907) 726-7207 to volunteer on Fridays at the pantry throughout the year. You would be helping to bear the weight that many fine men and women have joyfully shouldered for years.
The Chugach Mountain Quilters Guild
The Chugach Mountain Quilters Guild is an artistic organization, founded nearly 25 years ago for the purpose of advancing the art of quilting and alleviating the suffering with a touch of local, homemade comfort. The loving gifts from this charity have warmed countless children- whether newly placed in foster care, battling illness, or who have recently suffered a traumatic life event. They’ve generously contributed to numerous organizations, but most recently they have embraced the Seven Stars Foundation’s mission by providing quilts for children of military personnel to take with them to summer camp and keep as a gift. These camps cater to children of active duty military families where one has fallen, been wounded, is currently deployed, or who is a reservist. The heart of this faithful guild of quilters is to educate the community about their art and give back to our community in many beautiful, personal ways.
The Guild meets on the second Tuesday of each month for an evening meeting at Skyline Family Fellowship in Eagle River, and once again for a Monthly Sew Day, where they gather to assemble materials, sew together as a community, and learn new techniques of the craft. They regularly sponsor classes, lectures, and workshops as well as two annual quilt retreats for members. They thrive on the comradery of shared skills, fellowship, and fun. Young and old are welcome, and no prior experience is necessary to join. These talented ladies embrace the mantle of sharing their knowledge and are ready to teach new members who may not have any prior sewing experience.