Last week, I had the pleasure of serving alongside 20 other amazing Elks scholars as a part of the Tampa Elks Scholar Service Trip. I did my research before the trip and found that Hurricane Ian had displaced more than 40,000 Floridians in September 2022—I wanted to do something to help!
After landing in Tampa, we got right to work by sorting a busload (literally) of clothing that Tampa, Fla., Lodge No. 708 collected from the community for Greater Pine Island. We organized each item of clothing by size, made sure each item was in good condition, and placed them into bags. Whenever there weren’t clothes at my table, I would shift to another station to help others, and I saw other scholars doing the same. It was amazing to see everyone laboriously working for hours without any complaints, learning names and fun facts as we went.
We had dinner at the Tampa Elks Lodge, which is where I had my first genuine conversations with the scholars who were soon to be my #ElksFamily. The next morning, we were on the bus by 6:30 a.m. We had so much clothing that it almost didn’t fit inside the bus! Even here, I was amazed at our teamwork as we packed the bus quickly. Then, we headed to Greater Pine Island, a part of Florida that was hit especially hard by Hurricane Ian. The hours of sorting clothing were worth it when we saw the pure joy on the faces of the Elks at Pine Island as we unloaded the truck.
Our next stop of the day required the group to split up. We sorted food at the local food pantry and helped individual community members in their homes. Afterward, we heard stories of how the hurricane affected the Elks first-hand and how they were helping their community rebuild. It was heart-warming to hear about their continued service to the community, even after their own Lodge was torn down by Hurricane Ian. We also visited the partially standing Greater Pine Island, Fla., Lodge No. 2781 to clean up the remains of the Lodge. It’s still crazy to me how, in one hour, 21 scholars can make such a large difference.
The next day, we volunteered at Feeding Tampa Bay, an organization that provides food to over 1 million families in the Tampa Bay area. There, we boxed over 13,000 pounds of food and impressed our volunteer leader, who said we had done more work than another group triple our size.
Our last service site was Metropolitan Ministries, an organization that provides food and shelter to those experiencing and at-risk of homelessness, often families, to help them get back up on their feet. There, we did everything from taking care of children at the daycare to scrubbing dishes in the kitchen to translating for families who didn’t speak English to helping distribute food and clothing.
Every day, we reflected on our experiences—I loved hearing all the different perspectives of the scholars I was serving beside and how their own experiences connected to our service. We created a space where we could all be vulnerable, which helped us build friendships and create lasting memories. I’m honored to have met these amazing scholars and serve as an #ElksFamily on this service trip!