Beth Marsh had just finished filling a new white heavy-duty laundry basket with children’s clothing including a jacket when she exclaimed: “This is the best thing in the world!”
Meanwhile, Ann Marie Clancy who adding several more food items into another basket observed, “This is pretty much full and that’s a wonderful, wonderful sight.”
Soon thereafter, Lorie Eaton – a Past Exalted Ruler and “Mrs. Everything at the Tri-City Lodge” handed Marsh and Clancy a small piece of paper and asked if they’d check two other spanking new laundry baskets to see if a “Wish List” was complete with the necessary items.
Statements – as well as scenes like those – were commonplace Tuesday night inside the Tri-City Elks downstairs dining room, which looked more like a mini-supermarket than a banquet hall.
For inside of three hours, a record crowd of volunteers – who were mostly members of the ever-growing Lodge 14 – filled basket-upon-basket - more than 50 baskets - with everything from canned goods to toys and stuffed animals, even bicycles, for children and toiletries for adults as well as an entire family.
“I’ve never seen such an outpouring of generosity,” offered Mike Marsh, Beth’s husband who recently joined the Tri-City Lodge and along with his wife is active in St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Apponaug. “Is this some sort of record collection?”
Enter Mark Eaton, who has been the driving force at Lodge 14 which was once deep in the red and now positive pluses in the black offered, “This is what we’ve always done here in recent years; but tonight is extra special with all the volunteers and all the necessities that will help dozens of people in need.”
Eaton, in fact, again co-chaired Tri-City’s 6th Annual Food-Toy-Essentials event that he said would probably bring tears to Ted Budlong’s eyes.
“Ted is THE man who started this program a half-dozen of so years ago,” Eaton explained. “He was a caring guy full of energy, but suddenly, his girlfriend passed away unexpectedly and he lost his enthusiasm to keep this much-needed program going.”
That’s when Eaton and the Elks stepped and cranked “filling these baskets with love for people who in some cases may be working but just can’t makes ends meet, especially if they’re a single mother or father.”
Eaton, who holds the prestigious position of Rhode Island Vice President East which is one of the top three positions in all of the state’s Elk Dom, said with a special smile on his face as he watched people wheeling baskets that were overflowing with items placed in order for delivery: “This is what the Tri-City Lodge is all about; just like our credo reads: “Elks Care, Elks Share.”
The meaning of that statement didn’t just surface Tuesday evening, either.
Back on Saturday, Dec. 8 Tri-City held its annual Toy Party for Neighborhood Children which was, Eaton explained: “A dinner dance with a band that offered a full buffet and all that was required for admission was for people to bring at least one new toy and a few canned goods.”
“People kept coming and coming and coming that night,” Lori Eaton said, her always present smile glowing as bright as Rudolph’s red nose on Christmas Eve. “People were especially generous this year; just look around at all the items here tonight.”
There were so many tables topped with all kinds of items – from children’s clothing to foodstuffs and more – that the volunteers who filled the baskets had to take detours to other parts of the downstairs dining room to complete their tasks.
Several tables, though, spoke volumes of the kind of people who have become part of Tri-City’s now large family.
“See those tables over there?” Mark Eaton queried. “Just one member – Lacy Corrente – is responsible for all the shampoo, etc. on those tables. She’s our coupon lady … she collects coupons from everyone here at the Lodge then goes shopping and it doesn’t cost us a nickel.”
Nor did it cost Tri-City much money to put together the baskets that Eaton wanted it known came from “the incredible support of our members who always go above and beyond when it comes to helping people in need.”
Tri-City gets enough money from its fund-raisers – as well as a matching grant from the Elks National Foundation – to meet requests for the holiday baskets that Mark Eaton said “pour in from area churches, schools, people who know about families that are down and out … good people who care about their fellow man and woman.”
So, the next order of business will be delivering the baskets, ones that that Tuesday night as the Eaton’s and Tri-City Elks filled with seemingly unmatched love.
“We’ll have more than enough help – and trucks – to deliver the baskets,” Mark Eaton said with a smile. “Our members are always willing to help people in need, no matter what the season or reason.