The Salem Elks downtown lodge from March 19, 1928 (Courtesy/Salem Elks)

Salem Elks Lodge #336 is marking its 125th anniversary this month with members getting the word out that the organization is more than just a social group.

“Since its founding on April 21, 1896, the Salem lodge has given more than $17 million to the Salem community in charitable donations and in members’ volunteer time,” said Blake Whitson, spokesperson for the organization.

Today, the primary focus of the lodge is to provide scholarships to high school seniors and to help homeless veterans and active duty service members and their families.

The lodge assists homeless veterans that are moving into stable housing by supplying them with basic household items, such as sheets, towels, dishes and pots and pans.

“So far, this project has provided more than 90 move-in kits through the lodge’s partnership with Easterseals Oregon Supportive Services for Veterans Families,” he said.

Money for the project comes from local fundraisers and profits from a 38-space RV park the lodge owns on Turner Road Southeast, plus a $10,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation.

During the holidays, the lodge helps children of veterans and active-duty service members by providing Christmas presents and food boxes.

The lodge also donates backpacks filled with school supplies to area students in need.

Each year, the lodge offers a free Veterans Day lunch to veterans, their spouse and/or caregiver. The event also is open to the public. The menu varies but mostly consists of spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, soup and sandwiches.

On Thanksgiving, a traditional holiday lunch is served to anyone, including the homeless. Donation jars are put out, but no one is turned away because they can’t pay.

The lodge awards scholarships to senior high school students who qualify. Applicants are evaluated against their peers and are judged on academics, leadership and community service. The top three students from each district receive $1,800; $1,600; and $1,400 in funds.

Additional money is available to students who qualify at the state and national levels.

With civic, social and fraternal organizations throughout the country having trouble keeping their membership ranks full, the Salem lodge has devised ways to retain members and to attract new ones, Whitson said.

“Before Covid, our lodge had actually been doing great work on membership,” he said. “For the 2019-2020 lodge year, we actually posted a gain of over 40 members. Currently, the lodge has 500.”

For several years, “we have been more aggressive in promoting our charitable works via our lodge social media. We also have a presence at the Salem Saturday Market to remind many in the community our lodge is still present and active,” Whitson said.

A billboard put up a couple of years ago highlighted the lodge’s charitable giving, resulting in “a lot of traffic to our social media and we gained some new members as well,” he said.

Membership numbers have grown too now that women are can join. The national organization voted to allow women members in 1995.

There is no typical Elks member, according to Whitson.

People participate for a variety of reasons: Some like to stay at Elks RV parks and visit lodges in other cities. Some like the social aspects of the organization while others want to help with charitable works.

Members must be at least 21 years old, and those interested in learning more about the Elks can visit the lodge office at 2336 Turner Road S.E. or go to @salemelks336 or www.salemelks.org.

Starting in 1896, the lodge met in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall at Court and High streets. The lodge’s first building was located on the east side of Liberty, and then members met from 1925 to 1993 in what is now the MICAH building on State Street.

From there, the lodge moved to Turner Road.

“We actually have a stained glass window from the Povey Brothers Studio in Portland that dates back to the original lodge building, which we recently had refurbished and is on display at the Turner Street lodge,” Whitson said.

The lodge started its anniversary observance on Monday, April 12 when the city of Salem recognized April 21 as Order of the Elks Day.

The recently restored Povey Brothers Stained Glass window from the original Salem Elks lodge (Courtesy/Salem Elks)

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