The New Jersey State Elks Association celebrated its 100th anniversary June 8 with a parade through the streets of Wildwood, gathering more than 100 New Jersey Elks lodges, including Greater Cape May Elks Lodge No. 2839 and Greater Wildwoods Elks Lodge No. 1896, two of the 10 lodges that make up the state association's South District.
"This is our day," said Barbara Mahon, Leading Knight, PER of the Greater Cape May Elks Lodge. "It's our time to enjoy all of the fruit of our labor from the past year."
The Elks are a benevolent organization and social club with lodges all over the United States and more than 1,000,000 members. The national organization was formed in 1868 and the New Jersey State Elks Association in 1913. The Greater Cape May Elks formed its lodge in 2005 and opened its own lodge building in 2009, which now has nearly 800 members, and the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge formed in 1953 and has about 3,500 active members.
The main mission of the Elks is charity, Mahon said. Members accomplish that mission by providing scholarships to local students, supporting and hosting programs for local veterans, sponsoring drug awareness initiatives for students, sending special-needs children to Cape Moore, a special needs summer camp, and donating funds to countless community causes.
As an example, the Greater Cape May Elks Lodge recently purchased and hand-delivered thesauruses to Lower Township's Charles W. Sandman Consolidated School's fifth- and sixth-graders.
Ted Nulty, Exalted Ruler of the Greater Cape May Elks Lodge, said he was on that visit to the Sandman School when a student asked him if he gets paid to be part of the Elks.
"I thought about that question, and told the kids, 'Yeah, I get paid. I get paid in self worth, in respect, in gratitude - the fact that I'm helping people who need help,'" he said. "Yeah, I get paid very well."
Lucy Broadbent, community relations chair of Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge No. 1896, said she hopes the centennial events help get the word out that the Elks are a benevolent organization.
"We're here to help our community in any way we can," Broadbent said, citing that the lodge's recent support of its community after Hurricane Sandy, even though the lodge was greatly damaged by the storm.
"Hurricane Sandy came and really damaged the lodge (which has since been renovated and is back in use), but we had to continue to help our community. Thanksgiving was coming, and we needed to make our 75 food-basket quota," she said. "And we did."
The Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge surpassed its annual Thanksgiving food basket quota, donating 115 Thanksgiving baskets to the community last year, 25 of them donated by Acme Markets in Cape May Court House. Then at Christmas, when the lodge was still under renovation and could not host its annual Angel Tree gift sponsorship program for local families, members opened their homes to allow the program to happen.
"We went to plan B," Broadbent said. "We helped 12 families, and I invited the families to come to my home for the gift-giving celebration. We also hosted a Christmas dinner for 75 to 80 senior citizens. We don't just do this on the holidays; we fund the purchase of fresh produce, eggs and milk for two the local food banks every month. We sponsor local charitable golf outings and sponsor the local schools' DARE programs, host student essay contests. We hold a prom for Cape May County's special needs students, and we don't just give money, we give of ourselves, too."
"Our mission is, 'Elks Care, Elks Share,'" she said. "Well, we actually live it, every bit of it is true, and our lodge is something to be proud of."
Mahon, who joined the Greater Cape May Elks Lodge with her husband, Bob, about 10 years ago, said the endless volunteer opportunities attracted them to the Elks.
"We had heard a lot about what the Elks did for the local community, and we wanted to be a part of that," she said.
The New Jersey State Elks Association hosts a parade in Wildwood every year about this time to celebrate members' hard work, but this year's event was a bigger deal because of the state association's centennial.
"It was the marking of a very special celebration," Mahon said.
Contact Elisa Lala:
Cape May County Elks lodges
Greater Cape May Elks Lodge No. 2839
Meetings take place on the second and fourth Thursdays (fourth Thursday only in July and August). All regular meetings take place at the lodge, 917 Bayshore Road, Villas. Lodge Exalted Ruler Ted Nulty. Call 609-770-7314 or see elks.org/lodges/home.cfm?lodgenumber=2839.
Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge No. 1896
Meetings take place on the second and fourth Thursdays. All regular meetings take place at the lodge, 109 W. First Ave., North Wildwood. Lodge Exalted Ruler Joseph Magilton. Call 609-729-5776 or see elks1896.org.