Dec. 23, 2020 — Just as in years’ past, Florence Elks Lodge #1858 will be offering a free Christmas Day Community Appreciation Dinner on Friday, Dec. 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Adapting the model used earlier this year by the Kiwanis Club of Florence and its Thanksgiving Dinner at the lodge, the Florence Elks are preparing to serve 800 people.
People who drive — or walk — up will form into one line and receive packaged dinners under the overhang at the front entrance of the lodge at 1686 12th St.
Gary Vawter, kitchen liaison in charge of the Florence Elks Lodge kitchen and dining room, helped with both the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“We’re planning on putting out 800 meals on Christmas Day,” said Vawter — an amount which almost doubles the meals provided in November.
The Elks’ pre-cooked dinners include turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, mixed vegetables, a roll, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. These will be packaged into aluminum containers which can then be put in an oven to reheat.
In addition, special guest Santa Claus will be there to hand out candy canes. Every child will also receive a stuffed animal from the Elks.
“We usually have a kid’s Christmas party,” Vawter said. “At that time, all the kids get candy canes and stuffed animals and we serve ice cream and cookies and stuff. But since we couldn’t have that this year, we’re going to be handing out stuffed animals and have Santa there.”
For those who don’t arrive in vehicles, the Elks have a plan in place.
“For walk-up people, we’re going to put some of the dinners in the
oven. We’ll have some warm meals for people,” Vawter said.
About a dozen people at the Thanksgiving meal preferred to cook their plates at the lodge, so the Elks wanted to better accommodate them.
Another change from November is the point where people will pick up their meals.
“The route is going to be the same, except we’re not handing them out on the south side; we’re going to hand them out on the east side, under the overhang at our main entrance,” Vawter said.
There will be signs and volunteers to direct traffic.
Additional volunteers will be inside, where Vawter will be in charge of the kitchen.
Twelve people will be cooking the 30 turkeys, averaging 21 pounds each and boneless, between Tuesday and Thursday.
“We have 650 pounds of turkey — boneless turkey,” Vawter said.
The boxes will be assembled with the other dishes on Thursday and will be refrigerated until they are handed out.
“On a normal Christmas, we probably have 70 volunteers, and a lot of them are from the community,” Vawter said. “I want to thank the people who volunteer. We have a few members from the Kiwanis Club and we all appreciate the help.”
The Christmas Day Community Appreciation Dinner falls under the jurisdiction of Florence Elks Exalted Ruler Roger McCorkle, who is handling most of the non-kitchen volunteers. He is assisted by Elks Leading Knight Ron Tate.
Since many Elks members helped with the Thanksgiving meal, they are taking advice from Kiwanis to make the Christmas meal successful.
After all, the dinner is an important tradition for the Elks.
“It’s sort of a ‘thank you’ to the community,” Vawter said. “Elks is one of the largest charitable organizations in the United States. Our main purpose is serving our community. We’ve always had the dinners in here.”
The holiday dinner allowed people to come in groups or alone and find others to dine with.
“Having them in here gave them a sense of community — for people to see others they don’t see at other times,” Vawter said. “This year, we can’t do that, but we don’t want to stop giving these people food.”
He added that even though people may still have to eat in their own homes, they will at least get a large portion of holiday cheer.
For more information about Florence Elks Lodge #1858, visit www.florenceelks.com.