It’s a tradition unlike any other. An event steeped with love, caring and compassion.
It’s an event hosted by 110 valuable volunteers who actually pay – then serve – an unlimited food menu of charcoal-grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon, chilled water and soda, merriment and music as well as a variety of gifts to some 1,200 plus special guests.
It’s an event that costs organizers $10,000 – most of which is generated by select people all over Rhode Island who pay a penny a day ($3.65 to be exact) from their annual dues at the state’s 10 Elks Lodges. Likewise, there’s financial assistance – in part – from the Elks National Foundation from members throughout the country who elect to contribute an additional $10 when paying their annual local dues.
Even Gov. Dan McKee, who headlined the day’s guest list that included RI Speaker of the House H. Joseph Shekarchi and State Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr., both of whom live in Warwick, heaped words of praise upon the Rhode Island Association of Elks saying: “The Elks do remarkable work for the community across the state, and their collective heart, kindness and charity shined through on days like this.”
Last Thursday, despite the sun-scorching temperatures, the RI Association of Elks held its highly acclaimed 365 Outing inside the Masonic Youth Center off Long Road in Warwick.
“I can’t thank the Elks enough for their dedication and the smiles they put on everyone’s faces during this heart-warming event,” said McKee.
The Elks have held this event since the 1960s when the once-famous Rocky Point Amusement Park was in full operation. They then moved to the Masonic Youth Foundation with support from the Rhode Island Shriners.
“We’re always honored to host our 365 Outing here at Buttonwoods,” said Mark Eaton, who took over the chairmanship more than a decade ago and has grown the outing into perhaps the largest picnic of its kind in the state. “We, as Elks, enjoy and love doing this for the Special Needs community in our state.”
Eaton, however, was somewhat disappointed that the day’s excessive heat kept attendance down estimating “we would have had 450 to 500 more people if it wasn’t so hot.”
Nonetheless, it didn’t prevent upwards of 50 members of the Tri-City Elks from showing up to serve as chief cooks and super servers. Additionally, Rob Caramante, a.k.a. Lodge 14’s Mr. Music Man, played music for four hours which guests and aides danced to underneath the permanently-covered patio.
In the middle of it all were Deborah Mangina, former Lodge 14 Exalted Ruler and dental assistant with the state, and her long-time friend Maureen Sullivan -- who is also employed by the state as an administrative assistant; they contacted various special needs agencies throughout the state with an open invitation to the event.
“Deb and Maureen have all the contacts with those agencies,” said Donna Warner, a Lodge 14 member and ranking state Elks officer. “We all look forward to working at this great outing.”
An outing during which the generous Lombardi family of New England Lemonade fame offered chilled drinks for free and countless volunteers giving out free gifts such as beads, wrist bands, watches, blow-up guitars and microphones to stuffed animals helped make the 365 Outing another sparkling success.
“This is always special … an exceptional event; the Elks should be proud,” offered Bam-Bam (Bryan Martin), one of two Shrine Clowns who added to the day’s excitement. “This is a great event ... how about that magician (The Great Baldini) pulling tricks out of a hat then giving them to the special needs guests.”
So, despite the day’s hot temperature the State Association of Elks upheld their credo of “Elks Care, Elks Share,” which is why McKee told Eaton, while thanking him for this special invitation, “I had a great time; it was a pleasure meeting and interacting with countless individuals and caregivers here today. Everyone was having fun and tremendously grateful for such special support from the Elks.”
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