For a few weeks out of the year, one room at the Puyallup Elks Club starts to look quite a bit like a grocery store.
The room is stocked full of food — turkeys and soup, vegetables and stuffing, butter and milk. Plus yams and Jell-O and cranberries.
Puyallup Elks Club member Chuck Tibbs didn’t know where to begin to guess how many items were in there.
“I would guess I could stock a Safeway store,” he said.
The food is all donated to the Puyallup Elks Club for its annual giveaway in December for families in need. On Saturday, more than 300 families visited the Puyallup Elks Lodge at 314 27th St NE in Puyallup to pick up two week’s worth of food.
“This is our main charitable event this lodge does every year,” Tibbs said.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is an American fraternal organization that’s celebrating 150 years of service this year. The Puyallup Elks have been around for more than 90 years, said Tibbs, and started the holiday giveaway about 46 years ago. At that time, donations started out small, with the club helping about 20 families. A few years later, local schools became involved, and the donations poured in. Last year, about 300 families received food. This year, there were about 350 families on Tibbs’ list, and he continued to add to it down to the last day.
An Elks member for 16 years, Tibbs spends about five months preparing for the event every year. Although the Elks lead the way, it takes the whole community to pull off the event.
This year, the Puyallup School District and All Saints Catholic schools collected food donated by their students. The Church of Latter Day Saints donated 350 turkeys and 700 boxes of stuffing. Local farms donated fresh fruits and vegetables. And even community members, like Boy Scouts, donated time to volunteer in sorting all the items.
“We can’t do this without the farms, we can’t do this without the churches,” Tibbs said. “Everybody gets in there.”
Brouillet Elementary School counselor Cheryl Larson organizes donation events and identifies possible families to receive those donations by sending out emails to other counselors in the Puyallup School District. She sends those names to the Elks members, who create postcards to send to the families with the time they can come pick up their baskets at the lodge.
“I think it says we are a giving community with a generous spirit and always looking out for our families and those in need this time of year,” Larson said.
Larson’s father has been an Elks member for about 50 years. She’s grown up seeing how local families are impacted by the giveaway.
“They’re thrilled,” Larson said about the families. “When the holidays come around, it’s hard for most people, so when they see those baskets they get really excited.”
But the families come from surrounding communities, too — not just Puyallup. And those families respond to receiving the baskets in different ways, Tibbs said.
“I’ve had tears, I’ve had embarrassment ... every range of emotion is there,” he said.
Tibbs’ father was in the U.S. Army, and growing up he often moved around. For many military families, food stamps were essential. Tibbs knew, at 13 years old, what it was like to be hungry, he said.
“It’s a lot of why I do this,” he said.
The kids who volunteer and donate food also see the significance of giving, especially around the holiday season, where consumerism is in the spotlight, Tibbs added.
“What happened to the spirit of Christmas? This is what we should be doing,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to get involved and see that when you donate food, this is where it goes and this is who it’s helping,” Larson said.
Any leftover food from Saturday’s event was given to local food banks.
John Miller, a Puyallup Elks member since 1969, said the event shows the generosity of the community and how others can “pay it forward.”
“It’s a tremendous community service that people need to know about,” he said.