By Elizabeth Varville, Correspondent
The fourth annual Special Needs Easter Egg Hunt sponsored by the Elks Lodge in Temple was held on March 26. Over 400 hundred special needs children and their families gathered at the lodge to celebrate the joy of Easter with a customary egg hunt. Thousands of candy-stuffed Easter Eggs were scattered among the green-colored lawn as anxious egg hunters prepared to fill their Easter baskets with found treasures. The Easter Bunny himself greeted excited children as they made their grand entrances.
“I think it is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community with special needs in this way. It is amazing the event is free because not many people would be able to participate if it was not free because we have so many medical expenses that prohibits us from participating in many things. This is our second year attending, since we enjoyed it so much last year, we decided to come again this year,” said Beverly Lease of Temple.
According to elks.org, Elks Lodges invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, by undertaking projects that address an unmet need, and by honoring the service and sacrifice of our veterans.
“This started four years ago. Our missions at the Elk Lodge is to serve the community through charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity. So this event fits well into our support of local children. It started off small and it has just grown in leaps and bounds over the years. The biggest blessing comes from the appreciation of the community and the joy experienced by our volunteers. Our volunteers are so responsive to this type of event; there is just so much love being shared. This lodge prides itself in putting $8,000 to $10,000 back into the community through events such as the Easter Egg Hunt,” said Lodge President Billy Bryan.
Several non-profit organizations partnered with the Elks Lodge to give additional support for the event.
“[Downs but Not Out] is a support group I started in 1995. Our daughter was born in 1992 with Down Syndrome. She is the light of our family. We have five children and she is the youngest. Bob Bailey approached me about their Easter Egg Hunt; he had concerns that the event wasn’t doing what it needed to be doing. He had been to some of our other events and we started talking about making the Elk’s hunt one for special needs children. That is how we partnered with the lodge to start this Easter Egg Hunt that we have today. And I got with Susan Marek of the Heart of Central Texas Independent Living Center (HOCTIL) for their help as well. People who really had no reason to want to do such an event got involved, for this I am so grateful,” said founder Gwendolynn Whitehead of Downs but Not Out.
According to www.hoctilc.org, HOCTIL is dedicated to the promotion of independence for persons with disabilities through self-determination and to advocate for persons with disabilities for equal access and actively participate in their community. HOCTIL is a community-based, non-profit, non-residential service, advocacy and training organization operated for person with disabilities by persons with disabilities.
The Elks provided a hotdog lunch complete with drinks and snacks for all the participates and their families at the conclusion of the hunt.