By CHANSE WATSON
WALLACE — One of the many virtues of The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge is to support and remember the men and women who serve in our country’s armed forces.
Local Wallace Elks Lodge No. 331 is making sure to uphold that virtue by supporting a deployed Air Force unit through the creation of the “Adopt a Squadron” program roughly three months ago.
Organized and executed by Veteran’s Committee Chairman (and veteran) Sharon Howard, a total of 17 care packages have been sent to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing (currently stationed in the United Arab Emirates) through the program.
These care packages include various items that simply cannot be obtained overseas.
“Each month, my contact will send me a list of things that they want or need,” Howard said.
Staff Sergeant Keaton Robbins, Howard’s squadron contact and son-in-law, is the one who provides her with a list of requests from the Expeditionary Wing.
So far she has sent everything from playing cars and hygiene products to clothing and food to those serving our country away from their families.
Howard explains that the Adopt a Squadron program came about after having a conversation with her daughter, who is currently in the Air Force (but not with the 380th) and has been deployed in the past to both Kuwait and Qatar.
Even though these were not “front line” deployments, Howard knows all too well that it can still be difficult to be away from home for so long — regardless of where you are stationed. She also knows that even a small reminder of home can be a huge moral boost.
“I remember when I was in the military, getting something in the mail was so huge, whether it be a card, letter or package — it was such a connection to home,” she said.
This is why she got the idea to create the program and sponsor 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.
“There are a lot of programs out there for people who are deployed and it usually will end up going to people in Afghanistan or rural areas like that,” she said. “Because they are not on the front lines, these (deployments) are the ones that tend to be forgotten.”
All the funding for this program comes from the Veteran’s Committee and the Elks Lodge, which rely on donations and fundraisers for income.
The Veteran’s Committee itself is also fairly new, being created in September 2018 by Howard. Since its conception, the committee has initiated five separate programs, several fundraisers, tracked donations and earned $7,500 in grant funding.
These veteran programs include fly tying and fishing classes for disabled vets, free monthly dinners and free dental insurance.
With the committee’s relative success in such a short amount of time, Howard is hoping to take the Adopt a Squadron program national and get other Elks Lodges on board.
She will also be making sure that their local program continues on strong into the future, with possibly the addition of pen-pal component added on.
“This will remain an ongoing program, even after he (SSG. Robbins) comes back.”
For more information on the Adopt a Squadron program or other Wallace Elks Lodge Veteran’s Committee programs, contact the lodge at 208-753-4255 or Howard at 509 230-7373.