Programs Coordinators Sam Kayuha and Ben Baylon from the Community Investments Program recently ventured out of the office and into the field to visit Kankakee, Ill., Lodge No. 627, and take a bite out of the Lodge’s Edible Forest project.
Located about 70 miles south of the Elks National Memorial and Headquarters in Chicago, Aroma Park is the site of a long-term project by the Kankakee Elks to create a communal outdoor space for residents. Kayuha and Baylon joined Elks from the Kankakee Lodge and some of their friends from Chicago (South), Ill., Lodge No. 1596 and Ottawa, Ill., Lodge No. 588, to do their part in creating that space.
The Kankakee Lodge has funded this project with CIP grants since 2016. Arriving at the gardening site, it was abundantly clear what this year’s Beacon Grant funds were spent on—rows of fruit trees and berry bushes ready to be planted.
Under the direction of the Kankakee Grants Coordinators Jamie Greenley and Norm Grimsley, volunteers dug holes and planted trees and bushes along a road leading to the Kankakee River. These berry bushes and cherry, pear, apple, and peach trees will provide fruit and a gathering place for community members.
“The goal of the project is to establish a peaceful area for residents to exercise, pick fruit, connect with nature, and come together in a meaningful way,” says Greenley. “This is an opportunity for the village residents to make new friends, bringing together different age groups and enjoying fellowship with them.”
Once the trees were planted, they needed to be watered—a task that was made simpler with the help of the local fire department. Newly transplanted trees need two to three gallons of water per inch of the trunk’s diameter, a volume accomplished more easily with a fire hose than jugs.
Volunteers cleaned up, packed away shovels and supplies, and cleared away stray litter. With stiff backs and dirty hands, Elks brought this nearly decade-old project one step closer to completion.
“It was very rewarding to see the work the Lodge is doing in person,” Kayuha said. “We love seeing pictures of projects, but this was a great opportunity to experience the real thing. To meet Elks and make a contribution to the project definitely gave me a new appreciation for what they do.”
Since its inception, Lodge members knew the project would bring more long-term rewards than short-term. From the first grant application the Lodge submitted to fund the Edible Forest, it anticipated years of work. The plan included the installation and maintenance of a walking trail and exercise stations, as well as the fruit-producing plants along the Kankakee River. The current and final phase of the project, the planting of fruit trees and bushes along the entrance to the Edible Forest, will still require patience—it will be some time before the new skinny trees produce a bountiful harvest.
But to Elks working on the project, the promise of such a harvest has been a success unto itself.
“When the Elks Health Trail and Edible Forest is completed, it will be the highlight of the village,” Greenley wrote in 2018. “Families will be able to enjoy the beautiful flowers, the fresh fruit and vegetables right from the tree or plant, walk the trail to stay healthy, or sit on a bench to talk with friends.”
As that idyllic vision comes to fruition, the Lodge will continue to upkeep the area it worked so hard to beautify. When coming generations enjoy the tranquility and nutrition provided by this project, the Kankakee Elks will be to thank. In the meantime, the community will enjoy watching the trees grow.
Lodge grant applications are open through January 17, 2023. For more information on our available grants and their guidelines, check out our Grant Toolkits. If you have any questions about grant projects, the CIP can be reached at 773/755-4730 or LodgeGrants@elks.org.