November 13, 2012

Guest column: Who are the Elks?

— The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the USA has a mission statement. That mission statement reads:

“To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American Patriotism, to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.”

On a bitterly cold, blustery December day in 2011, I came to realize just how significant that mission statement really was. It was upon that day that I met 9-year-old Kimberly Ochoa. Kimberly was born with childhood leukemia. As is the custom every December, our lodge is frantically working to put Christmas baskets together for our local families in need. Every year the numbers seem to multiply, and especially more so in these hard economic times.

The Ochoa family had definitely gone through their fair share of difficulties. Kimberly’s father had been laid off work and Kimberly’s mother could not work due to having to be available three days a week to drive Kimberly on a 65-mile round trip to receive cancer treatments.

When I received my list of families to deliver the Christmas baskets to, I saw the Ochoa name. I was immediately apprehensive as to the situation that I was about to encounter but wanted to do my part in bringing this family some joy, too. I walked up the steps of what was a very humble home and knocked on the door. I had toys galore and two huge boxes of food items. Our lodge that year had done an excellent job at obtaining donated food items and toys.

Kimberly’s father opened the door and one could see an overwhelming joy that beamed from his face. He immediately asked me to come in. He took the toys and hid them fast from Kimberly so they could wrap them because they had nothing under their Christmas tree. There were no packages of any kind under the tree and it was a week before Christmas.

Kimberly’s mother gladly took the food items with a big smile from one side of her face to the other. I looked over to the living room, which actually was part of the kitchen, too, and there stood the prettiest 9-year-old I had ever laid eyes on. She immediately ran up to me and put out her hand and wanted me to sit with her. She talked and talked all about her favorite things she liked to do and how her treatments were going.

Kimberly had no hair at all, but she had the biggest brown eyes, and her expressions, her demeanor and her lively outlook on life were definitely contagious. Kimberly had the sweetest and most courageous disposition for any person going through such a momentous time in their lives. I felt ashamed that I had been so apprehensive to begin with and that my own troubles were so futile in the whole of realm of reality.

I will never forget Kimberly and how she made me feel, and how deeply appreciative the parents were for the baskets that our lodge had put together for them. All they could keep saying was, “So much food, so many toys, thank you, thank you.” Kimberly and her family had a decent Christmas that year and a little girl got to open presents from under the tree that might not otherwise have been able to.

On July 16, 2012, I was informed that Kimberly Ochoa passed away two days before she would have turned 10 years old. I was greatly saddened by this news. I can say without any hesitation in my heart that the Elks made a difference in Kimberly’s life. I saw it with my own eyes, I witnessed the reactions, I saw the glow in a little girl’s face and as a consequence, Kimberly had a great Christmas. On that cold, blustery winter day nobody knew it would be her last.

This is who the Elks are and this is why I am so proud to be associated with such an organization. Charity and brotherly love have never been so more exemplified than they are with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Elks care, Elks share.

Mavis H. Hackney

Dalton Elks Lodge 1267