A CIP Trip to the Grand Canyon State
In the first week of the new year, Elks National Foundation staff supported a group of scholars on the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip, assisting with service and cultural exploration in the Phoenix area. ENF Assistant Director Debbie Doles, Senior Programs Associate Meaghan Morris, and Programs Associate Sam Kayuha also took advantage of the proximity to the wealth of CIP grant projects done by local Lodges, visiting two to see the impact they have had on their communities.

Gilbert, Ariz., Lodge No. 2848 is located in a young and growing community. The city had 5,717 residents in 1980; in 2024, it has more than 285,000. With a median age of just over 35, the youthful population brings hope for the future, but it also brings the need to care for young people experiencing poverty.

The Gilbert Lodge uses CIP grants, including an Impact Grant, to ensure that local students have their basic needs satisfied.

Grants Coordinator Larry Morrison and his fellow project organizers, Leading Knight Donald Sahadi and Exalted Ruler Quido “J.R.” Iannacone, identified the nearby Title One schools, in which at least 40 percent of students are from families below the poverty line. The Lodge works with these schools to create and maintain food pantries that offer weekly distributions for the students.

The Lodge representatives took ENF staff first to Oak Tree Elementary, one of three elementary schools being served by the Lodge’s Impact Grant this year. Staff were introduced to the school principal and social worker, who shared how important the project has been. The effect of hunger on learning is well-documented, but the pantry’s cupboards and refrigerator were full—a positive sign for the students’ futures.

“The Lodge clearly had a great relationship with the school and its students,” says Kayuha. “It was great to see the system that the Gilbert Elks had developed to so effectively serve this important need.”

Then staff visited Gilbert Elementary, the location of another Elks-run student pantry maintained by the Lodge’s Beacon Grant. The Lodge has supported this school with a pantry for more than eight years. Elks distribute food to the pantry every Thursday, and when the school is closed for breaks, families can come to the Lodge to receive their food.

With only 60 members, it takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure the Gilbert Lodge’s grants meet their goal of serving as much need as possible. Carrying out active projects without more members can be a challenge, but after just a few hours’ visit, it was clear the Gilbert Elks are up for it.

“What's small in membership is mighty in impact,” says Doles. “It was abundantly clear that the Elks presence on campus helps to ensure that students have the nutrition they need to focus on learning. The Oak Tree Elementary School Principal said it best when he called the Gilbert Elks their partners in student success.”

Next, ENF staff traveled south to Casa Grande Valley, Ariz., Lodge No. 1957 to discuss the impact of the Lodge’s work through its Impact Grant.

At the Lodge, staff met with Grants Coordinator Grover Ramsey and the other members of the Casa Grande Homeless Coalition. The Coalition members came from nonprofit groups, local government, and churches to share the unique way they support the unhoused community, and how they have worked together to create opportunities for people experiencing hardship in Casa Grande.

The Casa Grande Valley Lodge uses its Impact Grant to provide hydration supplies and heat relief kits. The average high temperature in the area between June and August is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, making these kits essential for people without reliable shelter. Sun hats, sunglasses, and cooling bandanas are all provided as ways to beat the heat. Outside the summer months, the Lodge also assists with food support and prepares those experiencing homelessness for the cooler winter season.

ENF staff also visited Seeds of Hope, a nonprofit managed by a member of the Coalition. The organization’s Executive Director Joe Rivas gave a tour of its soup kitchen, which provides a free hot lunch six days a week. It also delivers food to those unable to make it to the site, and provides needed personal items like clothes and hygiene supplies. Seeds of Hope works in close partnership with the Casa Grande Valley Lodge, a collaboration that has been fruitful for all involved.

The Casa Grande Valley Lodge’s project truly puts the community into Community Investments Program. As part of a Coalition of local groups, the Elks Lodge has shown itself to be an indispensable part of the effort to support the unhoused in their area.

“It’s a privilege being able to see our CIP grants in action,” says Morris. “Witnessing the scope of the Gilbert and Casa Grande Valley Lodges’ grant projects in person allows us to see the dedication, commitment, and impact in ways that can’t always be translated on paper. We are honored to be a part of it!”

For 2023-24, the Elks National Foundation allocated nearly $16 million to fund the Community Investments Program. Lodges meet local needs through CIP grants that offer Elks opportunities to serve their community in ways that will raise the Lodge’s profile, energize the membership, encourage former members to return to the fold, and gain the notice of people who want to be part of an organization that’s doing great things. To learn more about the Community Investments Program, please visit elks.org/cip.

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