Puyallup Elks Club members know the holiday season can be a financial struggle for many local families.
That’s why every year, the Elks band together with the Puyallup School District, All Saints Catholic Church and other organizations to collects thousands of food items in an effort to help.
“The objective is to give (families) two full weeks of food so that they can buy other things for the holidays,” said Elks member Glen Ross. “They can buy presents. They can do something special.”
Starting in November, the Elks begin collecting food donations, from turkeys to canned beans to fruit — anything it takes to put together a meal. They’re stored at the Elks facility at 314 27th St. NE in Puyallup.
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On Tuesday, Elks members and volunteers representing Boy Scout Troop 598, Cub Scout Pack 505 and Girl Scouts gathered there to sort through the boxes of donations.
“I just like helping the community,” said Boy Scout Ethan Bennis, who helped organize the food with fellow scout Bhargav Iyer. “One of our mottos is doing a good turn daily, so this kind of proves it.”
When asked about the value of the amount of food they collect, Elks members were at a loss.
“We don’t have the foggiest idea,” said Elks member Roy Liljestrom.
The food is organized grocery-store style for families scheduled to pick up their baskets on Saturday.
Recipients of the baskets are from Puyallup and nearby Pierce County communities and are identified through counselors in the Puyallup School District and through All Saints Catholic Church, which operates a mobile food bank.
“We already work with so many people who need Christmas baskets,” said Veronica Fehrenbach, pastoral assistant for outreach at All Saints.
All Saints submits names to the Elks, said Fehrenbach. This year, there were more names than they expected — about 180 total from All Saints alone.
“A lot more families signed up than they were prepared for because the program is growing,” she said.
This is Ross’s first year as the chair of the Puyallup Christmas Basket Program, and it also happens to be the Elks’ largest year yet, with more than 550 families signed up to receive a basket.
“We were afraid because we only had 328 turkeys, and we said, ‘Oh, what are we going to do?’” Liljestrom said.
In addition to the 300 turkeys provided by the Church of Latter-Day Saints and 28 turkeys provided by Brouillet Elementary School, All Saint Church contributed 150 extra turkeys to the cause.
“Any one organization could not do this by themselves,” Ross said.
The Elks dedicate part of their budget every year to buy vegetables for the program, getting deals from Sterino Farms and Restaurant Depot. Safeway was a big donor of boxes to hold the food. Bimbo Bakeries in Tacoma donated around 400 loaves of bread.
The program started more than 40 years ago with about 25 families. Last year, 350 families were served.
Liljestrom thinks the increase in the number of families is in part because local organizations have learned how to connect with them.
“I think it’s a combination of there’s more people, and we’re doing a better job of reaching them,” he said. “The teamwork this year has been phenomenal.”
Ross said he hopes the program brings to light that the Elks are a valuable source in the community.
“Any group that wants to help the community, we want them to leverage our facility,” he said. “We try to do whatever we can for the community — that’s what we’re here for.”