Updated: Jan 21
On December 11th Kentuckians and surrounding states were watching reports of the devastation and wanted to help. Greg and Lisa Swinney while watching the devastation and the many relief efforts that were starting, contacted Exalted Ruler Lora Forde of Louisville Lodge #8. With it being so close to Christmas, the idea was put forward to see if the Kentucky Elks could provide a Christmas for the Children and Families of the affected areas.
A call was placed to our State President Jesse Shipp and we informed him of our idea and asked if we could make this a State Project. He thought this was a great undertaking for the Organization. The idea being that all lodges in the state would conduct a Toy Drive and then send those toys to Louisville Lodge #8 by the 22nd of December. On December 23rd the toys would be distributed at three locations: Marshall County/Mayfield, Dawson Springs and Bowling Green. To handle the distribution, we reached out to Marshall County Elks Lodge #2707 Exalted Ruler Stacey Haines who would handle Marshall County/Mayfield area, Madisonville Elks Lodge #738 Exalted Ruler Quentin Clark and Past Exalted Ruler Janet Cartwright who would handle Dawson Springs/Princeton area and Elks National Veterans Service Commission Chairman Marty Harbolt to find a contact in Bowling Green since the Elks no longer have a presence in that area. Mr. Harbolt contacted VFW Post #1298 Commander Glenn Skaggs and made arrangements.
All Exalted Rulers of the sixteen Kentucky Lodges were contacted and informed of the plan asking them to participate in any way they can. Social Media mainly consisting of the State Facebook Page, and various Lodge Facebook pages as well as the KY-Elks.org website were used to get the message to all Elks in the State. There was a sister lodge that caught fire earlier in the year and lost everything and still wanted to help. Cynthiana Lodge #438 donated funds to the effort and Tri-County Lodge #2826 collected and purchased gift cards for teenagers and to give to families for food.
On Facebook we learned of a local musician’s benefit called “Musicians for Mayfield” happening in Louisville. This was organized originally as a Toy Drive for the kids in Mayfield. After contacting Kristi Stewart, the Organizer/Radio Personality, we agreed to join efforts and help get the benefit's toys to Western Kentucky. It was at this time that we realized we needed to set up shipment of all these toys to the affected areas. A call was placed to United Parcel Service Public Affairs asking for help in getting the toys to the destinations. Jeff Wofford, Public Affairs Manager, called us back and stated UPS would be glad to help and provide a semi-trailer and a box trailer truck to help transport the toys to Benton and Bowling Green. A fellow Elk asked their employer, KYANA Packaging Solutions, to provide a 26’ foot freight truck. They agreed whole-heartedly and we set their destination for Dawson Springs.
We then realized that the effort for Princeton should be a separate truck. A call was placed to Past Exalted Ruler Chris Rogers of Princeton Lodge #1115 requesting they serve as the distribution center for the Princeton Area. He agreed and started right away. We then asked Kathy and Buddy McHargue of Louisville Kentucky, friends of the Lodge to transport the toys for Princeton.
The collection of toys and supplies was in full swing. Louisville Lodge #8 being the HUB for this effort started to receive toys, offers of help, donations from Lodges, State Associations, Elk Districts, local businesses, people outside our beautiful state, and from our local communities. The Michigan Elks Association donated $5,000 dollars earmarking $2,000 for the Toy Drive and $3,000 for the Kentucky Elks Association Tornado Relief fund. Elks Lodge #366 Hampton Virginia donated funds that were used for the Toy Drive. Louisville Lodge #8 received toy donations that were drop shipped from Crestview, Florida Lodge #2624.
The Southern Illinois District Deputy Jessica Mitchell contacted us and offered help from her district for whatever was needed. She was put in contact with the Madisonville effort and the Marshall County effort. Southern Illinois Elks then provided trucks with supplies and toys to assist both areas. According to Ken Hooper, Kentucky State Elks Association Secretary, the Mayfield/Marshall County Area received and continues to receive trucks of needed supplies from all over the connecting states including, but not limited to, Cullman, Alabama Lodge #1609 and the Missouri Elks Association.
Louisville Lodge #8 received over $13,000 dollars that was used to purchase toys and supplies. Donated toys were divided by age and gender. While receiving donations of toys we were able to also purchase toys to shore up each category. Lodge #8 members came out in force to act as shoppers, organizers, toy assemblers and package handlers. Elks and Ladies Auxiliary members were at the lodge from 10am in the morning until 11pm every day for 11 days.
On December 22nd toys and supplies were packed in boxes and sorted by destinations. Members from Newport Elks Lodge #273, Tri-County Elks Lodge #2826, Frankfort Elks Lodge #530, Florence Elks Lodge #314, and Louisville Elks Lodge #8 hand loaded a UPS Semi and Freight Truck. The following morning members once again loaded another Freight Truck donated by KYANA along with three pickup trucks.
The Drug Awareness trailers were used to carry additional supplies. Our Eastern Drug Awareness trailer was set up in the Benton/Mayfield distribution area stuffed with additional toys and supplies. Along the way our State President Jesse Shipp and First Lady Mary Kay stopped and purchased additional supplies. Our Western Drug Awareness trailer survived the tornadoes and was used to provide toys and supplies as well in Dawson Springs.
Before leaving Louisville, volunteers got their assignments for which distribution site they were assigned to. At 9am all volunteers departed Louisville and headed to the affected areas and by 1pm the toy distribution began in all locations. Mr. & Mrs. Claus made an appearance to these places with their elves and helpers. In Marshall County well over 800 families received assistance. In Dawson Springs over 95% of the toys were distributed. Princeton served over 70 families and in Bowling Green toys and supplies were given out. Part of our effort included 6 generators that were purchased by the Kentucky Elks Association Veterans Committee and delivered to the affected areas. A fellow Elk member from Rockland, Maine Lodge #1008 donated the use of an RV to a person in need. Arrangements were made for the shipment of the RV to Bowling Green and the RV was provided to a veteran in Dawson Springs who lost every building on their property.
Later that evening as the sun was about to set, we found out there was a family that lost everything and was unable to attend the toy/supply drive in Benton. Members once again were fleet of foot and loaded three pickup trucks of supplies and toys and Santa Claus gave us the address of Grandma’s house and we created a convoy and delivered Christmas to them.
All in all, this effort was only made possible by the combined efforts of the Lodges and volunteers not only from Kentucky but from all over Elkdom. We appreciate everything that was done by anyone that had a hand in making this possible. We were told many times by the volunteers that this effort made them proud to be an ELK and our response back to them was ‘This is what we do’! Thank you all once again, $13,164.12 was used to purchased toys/supplies plus receiving donated toys and supplies from other drives. There was $3,510 in gift cards, and checks have been disbursed in the amount of $4,863 to the Kentucky Elks Association Tornado Relief Fund from Venmo and other cash donations.
To see photos of the affected areas and distribution efforts, please visit our photo gallery @: https://www.2021-disaster-relief.ky-elks.org/
Thanks to all of you!!
2nd VP Kentucky Elks Association