Bend Elks pack food boxes for annual Christmas drive

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 21. 2006 5:00AM PST

Will Robertson slowly pushed a shopping cart down the aisles of folding tables covered with cardboard boxes at the Bend Elks Lodge on Wednesday morning, dropping in cans of food as he went.

Robertson was one of about 20 Elks members filling boxes with food Wednesday. He has been helping with the Elks’ annual food and gift drive for 35 years, he said.

“This is the giving season – everybody likes to give, and how better can you do it?” Robertson said. “People are in need of dinner, and it’s Christmas time.”

Every year, the Elks collect food and gifts at donations boxes throughout the city. The boxes – filled with canned food, cooked hams and wrapped presents for children – are delivered on Christmas Eve to needy families in Deschutes County who have been identified by The Salvation Army.

This year, the Elks have also teamed with the Bend post of the American Legion to provide gift boxes for veterans and the families of deployed Oregon National Guard members. All together, the group will pass out boxes to about 250 families this year, said Rick Lewis, the group’s leading knight and the organizer of the food and gift drive.

Lewis said the Elks collected six tons of food this year, with help from the local high schools, their ROTC programs, the Boy Scouts and local businesses.

The Elks also have a charity ball in early December that helps pay for the program, said Donald Gotcher, the organization’s exalted ruler. Gotcher added that the Elks have been collecting donations at Christmas for over 50 years.

“We’re a charitable organization,” he said, adding that many people might think of the Elks as more of a social group.

The lodge’s secretary, Myrtle Farleigh, echoed that sentiment, saying she thinks many people do not know that the Elks have some sort of charitable involvement almost every month.

“The public is not always aware of what we’re doing unless we have this (Christmas program),” Farleigh said.

Jeffrey Lightburn is an Elks member and the commander of Bend’s American Legion post. He said that the Christmas gift drive has grown every year since he has been involved, and this year he asked for recommendations from the National Guard for veterans and deployed soldiers who would benefit.

“This is a way for the Elks and the post to say ‘thank-you’ to those who are serving or have served our country,” Lightburn said. “It’s hard getting your feet on the ground and it’s hard getting readjusted, so this is one obstacle removed.”

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