For members of the Brick Elks, Christmas is an all-encompassing holiday, bringing families together and making young people smile. So when it comes to giving back to their community, the Elks’ volunteer effort is similar: an all-encompassing mix of giving back in a unique way.
Christmas for the Elks begins weeks before the holiday itself, beginning on Thanksgiving, when members shop at Aldi to purchase food and prepare over 100 meals and gift boxes to local families in need. In December, the group held a Christmas party for both children and adults with special needs, the Brick lodge’s contribution toward serving the special needs population, a national focus for the Elks across the country.
But the giving doesn’t stop there. This weekend, the Elks came together once again to combine a food drive and toy drive in order to deliver Christmas to families across Brick who might otherwise not have had such a special day.
“It’s something very near and dear to my heart,” said John Gagliano, one of the organizers of the food and toy drive.
Using money raised all year long that is placed into a special account, Elks members undertake the task of shopping for food, making up enough baskets to feed 130 families, then purchasing toys for children. The Elks partner with local schools and organizations to find families in need, Gagliano said. Members often donate additional toys, and gather at the organization’s lodge on Hooper Avenue the Saturday before Christmas to sort everything out and welcome needy families who come to pick up the donated items.
“We have a lot of people who get very emotional, and we do also,” said Gagliano. “They really need what we’re giving to them.”
Gagliano adds a few extra treats of his own – plenty of candy and cookies for the children who accompany their parents to the lodge – and leads his fellow members in not only providing food and presents, but a smile and a happy start to the Christmas season.
The Elks have been providing Christmas food baskets for 25 years, with Gagliano leading the effort for the past 15 years. The toy drive is three years old.