The Elks at Egg Harbor Township-based Lodge 2563 do a lot of good for a lot of people. They advocate for and support military veterans and the mentally handicapped in Atlantic County and beyond, and they're always willing to lend a helping hand to a community member in need.
Their agenda was put on hold this fall when Hurricane Sandy flooded their Somers Point-Mays Landing Road lodge with a few inches of water, forcing major renovations. Looking at the damage through the lens of their shallow coffers, the Elks knew it would be a struggle to rebuild on their own. This time, it was the helpers' turn to get helped.
The Elks' call was answered by the Carpenters Union Local 255, members of which have worked alongside the Elks since mid-November, and after two months, the job is nearing completion.
Steve Heldt, Exalted Ruler at Lodge 2563, said the union has been invaluable in getting the Egg Harbor Township Elks back on their feet.
"It's been a big help," Heldt said. "If we didn't have the extra set of hands, I don't think we'd be halfway to where we are now."
The Elks have set a target date of Feb. 20 for their reopening, which Heldt is hopeful they'll reach.
Following Sandy, the union, which mandates charity work from its members, put out a call to businesses and community members in need. The Elks heard about this from Bill Adams, who happens to be a member of both organizations, and they made the call.
Being the recipients of help has been a humbling experience for the members of the Elks, said Esteemed Leading Knight Ralph Rigg.
"We're the ones that are first to help out anybody who asks for our help with whatever," Rigg said. "It was definitely nice to be on the receiving end. It was something different."
The lodge sustained significant damage from Sandy, with ruined floors, mold and compromised walls and insulation throughout.
About 15 carpenters and members have donated their off days, usually Saturdays but a few Sundays, to put in six- to eight-hour shifts. Most of the volunteers have come for one day, said foreman Steve Fitzpatrick, although a few have pitched in for more.
Fitzpatrick, whose mother and step-father are Elks, said the group, which has helped the union in the past, is deserving of the help.
"They usually donate to us. I mean, they're in need of help with Hurricane Sandy and everything," Fitzpatrick said. "We want everyone to get back on their feet, get back up and running."
The Elks are capable builders in their own right, and by Heldt's estimation, have done about three-quarters of the work. But while the union carpenters have done the smaller portion of the work, their contributions have been largely outside the Elks' areas of expertise, and hiring contractors to do the work would have been prohibitively expensive, Rigg said.
All told, the union's help has been an asset to the Elks both because it saves them some cash and gets them back on their feet quicker than without. But to Rigg, it's not the measurables that make their help significant - it's the fact they were so willing to give it.
"These guys, especially around the holidays, came out and helped us," Rigg said. "They have families and things they have to do, but we've had guys that were here several times. They didn't just do a one-day deal. They came back two or three times, and that was very nice and very much appreciated."
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