Elks starting monthly dinner for kids
By Emily Sorensen
Starting next month, kids are going to have somewhere new to eat a free meal and do their homework, compliments of the Poway Elks Club, Lodge #2543.
Thanks to a $1,000 annual grant received from the Elks’ National Foundation, the Poway Elks are going to be putting on a monthly warm, evening meal for kids ages 4 to 18 in the back room of their lodge during the school year.
“The grant is intended for an ongoing charitable project,” said Greg Merritt, Youth Activities chairman for the Poway Elks.
Merritt, now in his 24th year with the Elks, said he brainstormed the idea for the monthly free meal after attending the national Elks convention in Austin, Texas.
“We’re very close, location-wise, to Valley School,” said Merritt. Valley Elementary School is one of the lower-income schools in the Poway Unified School District. “We didn’t know if everyone was getting a warm, nutritious meal every night.”
To combat this, the Elks will be opening their doors from 5 to 8 p.m. the second Wednesday of every month, beginning Aug. 8, for kids to enjoy a warm meal cooked and served by the Elks. “It also serves as a place to get parents out of the house,” said Merritt. Parents are welcomed, and encouraged, to join their kids for the monthly dinner, but adults won’t be able to eat for free. “They can buy a plate at a reasonable price of $5,” said Merritt.
Though the Elks would like to encourage parents to accompany their children, Merritt said he understood if they couldn’t. “I know, initially, parents will want to see what is going on,” said Merritt, who added that they at least want parents to come in and sign their children in, so the Elks can find out about any medical issues, allergies or special needs. The unsupervised cut-off age is 4, as the Elks aren’t set up to deal with younger children without parental supervision, said Merritt.
In addition to dinner, the Elks are also providing the room for kids to do homework, and Merritt has arranged for a guest speaker to be there each month. The first speaker will be Poway Deputy Mayor Jim Cunningham, with other guest speakers already lined up through March.
Thanks to the grant, Merritt said the dinners shouldn’t cost the Elks anything out of pocket. “It won’t cost us anything but manpower, sweat and joy,” said Merritt. The Elks will be cooking and serving the food themselves in their kitchen. Merritt noted that the Elks have food-handler certifications and are approved for food services. The Elks can comfortably seat about 125 people, and can serve between 150 and 200, said Merritt.
“It’s about doing something positive for the community,” said Merritt, “and providing a positive public image of ourselves. Though the Elks are Poway-based, kids from surrounding areas like Rancho Bernardo are welcome if they want. “We don’t want to turn anyone away,” said Merritt.
As the grant is annual, Merritt hopes the monthly dinners will be a success the Elks can continue. “We’re just going to see where it goes,” said Merritt.
The first free dinner will be 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 at the Poway Elks Lodge, 13219 Poway Road. Dinner will be salad, chicken fettuccine alfredo, vegetables, bread and dessert. For more information, call the lodge at 858-748-2543.
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