It is unmatched acts of caring and sharing that comes courtesy of members from Rhode Island’s 10 Elks lodges donating $3.65 of their annual dues to put on a one-of-a-kind picnic for the state’s Special Needs citizens at the Masonic Youth Center in the Buttonwoods section of Warwick.
Held Thursday the event featured 1,200-plus hot dogs, 1,400-plus hamburgers, 250 pounds of potato salad, 1,800 bags of potato chips, 25 watermelons, countless cans of soda and bottles of chilled water as well as 6,000 gifts that ranged from Mardi Gras-like bead necklaces to plastic fire hats to American flags and is staffed by nearly 200 Elks from all corners of the state.
It is a heart-warming and extraordinary event that tugs at the heart-strings of every Elk and public officials like Warwick Mayor Joseph J. Solomon and Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, just to name a few, replete with a backdrop of music played by Rob Caramante and includes participation by the Palestine Temple Clowns, Tom “The Great Baldini Magician” Holmes and award winning Damhsa Irish Step Dancers.
Solomon, in fact, created another historic first for the annual affair that began many, many years ago at Rocky Point Amusement Park and is, he said last Thursday, “the epitome of the Elks four cardinal virtues of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity.”
“As a proud member of the Tri-City Elks, I am pleased to have supported this event for many years,” said Solomon. “It is always very heart-warming to see people with special needs from around the state come to enjoy a beautiful day along the bay with great food, entertainment, friends and even drinks donated by New England Frozen Lemonade.”
Given that, Solomon held a brief but emotion-pitched presentation proclaiming Thursday, August 1, 2019 “as Rhode Island Elks-365 Outing Day here in our city.”
Since 2015, the 365 Outing – which now costs between $10,000-$12,000 to stage – used to attract only 300 or so people but has grown considerably and last Thursday played host for the second straight year to 1,800 plus people form the state’s Special Needs community.
The growth, though, doesn’t come by just issuing a blanket invitation. It’s a long-standing process headed by Chairman Mark Eaton and Co-Chairs Deborah Mangina and Maureen Sullivan that requires long hours of volunteering to reach each and every member of the state’s Special Needs community.
“Deb and Maureen do a fantastic job and send communications to every group home and care facility in the state,” Eaton, who is the RI Elks Major Project Chairman and has as Grand Lodge Deputy Leo Blanchette emphasized “pumped much-needed new live into this extra special event since 2015.”
Eaton, who also holds the post as the state Elks’ First Vice President, noted: “Everything went well; the weather was not a factor and the day could not have been better.”
Even “Elroy the Elk” – Tri-City’s Walter Pearson – was proud and pleased with the work of grill-master Al Girard of the East Providence Elks who had a host of help at more than a half-dozen propane gas grills cooking hot dogs and hamburgers under the shade of trees as the seaside Masonic park.
Blanchette, meanwhile, praised Eaton for his tireless efforts for the 365 Outing and his words were reinforced by Tom Kramer, statewide Elks president from Westerly and past state Elks president/Grand Lodge committee member David Cioe.
“This is an example of everything Mark Eaton does to promote Elkdom in Rhode Island,” Blanchette offered. “When I asked him to grow this event a few years back, I had no idea it would reach the magnitude you see here today. He keeps working and working…he never stops.”
Lt. Gov. McKee, who made his first-ever visit to the 365 Outing said, “This is a very, very impressive and heart-warming event. I want to thank the Rhode Elks for this invitation and thank each and every Elk for what they’re doing to help out state’s special needs residents. Congratulations on a job extremely well done.”
Perhaps Solomon, who Eaton mused “was an Elk before he became our mayor,” summed up yet another special success story by the Rhode Island Elks saying, “This picnic is something I know our guests and my fellow Elks look forward to every year and it’s great that we can continue this wonderful and much-cherished tradition.”