Elks and Starfish unite!

Thanks to some timely assistance from the Penticton Elks Lodge, the Rotary Starfish Pack program has recently received $500 in donations to help make sure school kids aren’t going hungry during the pandemic. Gathered for the official – and socially distanced – cheque handover Tuesday were Elks Lodge secretary Lorri Kidd, Rotary Club of Penticton president Natalie Ferebee and (far right) Starfish chairperson Rotarian Tracy Van Raes. Also on hand were (from left) Elks members Dennis Wagner, Kevin Lamb, Doug Belanger, Deborah Sayese, Dave Pearson and Joan Chernesky. Other Rotarians who are part of the Starfish committee but not pictured include Keith Johnson, Anita Petersen and Barb Hoolaef.

Empty bottles and cans are helping put food into the empty bellies of some Penticton kids.

For the past few weeks, Penticton Elks Lodge No. 51 has been collecting empties and donating the proceeds to the Rotary Starfish Pack program.

“Members were getting ahold of me and asking, ‘What can we do during COVID?’ Some of them are elderly and we had to think of something where we wouldn’t endanger them or anybody else,” explained Elks canteen manager Deborah Sayese, who is leading the project.

“We decided because the bottle depot was closed and people were stacking up bottles, we would ask people to come here every Friday and drop off their bottles. We’d leave them for five days, and then we’d start sorting them.”

And it worked: Elks volunteers Kevin Lamb and Dennis Wagner have already cashed in $500 worth of containers.

The money is being used to purchase 60 gift cards per week from Save-On-Foods, 54 of which are then inserted into food hampers for Starfish program participants in School District 67, while the other four go to Ecole Entre-lacs.

Before the pandemic, the Starfish program saw Elks volunteers stuff backpacks with food for at-risk kids to take home with them on weekend.

Since it started in April 2017 with 10 students, the program has now grown to 60 kids at eight Penticton schools.

“We’ve actually reached out to all the Penticton schools now and everybody is happy – or they were – with their numbers,” said Tracy Van Raes, who leads the Starfish Pack program for the Rotary Club of Penticton.

The program does, however, have room to grow, added Van Raes, who’s also a trustee for School District 67, which is serving approximately 160 families a week with its food hampers.

To donate your empties to the Starfish program, stop by the Elks Lodge between 4-5 p.m. on Fridays, or schedule a pickup by sending a message to the Elks Club on Facebook.