When Faith Frost crashed a party nine years ago, she had no idea it would lead her to the position of “exalted ruler.”
Frost took on the grand title in April. Outside of an Elks lodge, the role is known as president.
“We just happened to be going down the road and saw the Elks Club,” Frost said. “The place was packed.”
When she and three friends stopped to ask what was going on, they were told it was the annual Paws for Patriots event. Frost learned more about the event that raises money to pair service dogs with disabled veterans and left that night with an application in hand.
The Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Club No. 2855 has 1,227 members that range in age from 23 into their 90s, but Frost said the average age is still about 70.
“It’s not really a young person’s club, but we’re working on it,” she said.
For not being a “young” club, members certainly enjoy the nightlife. The lodge offers entertainment every night of the week from trivia and Bingo to Saturday night dinner dances.
“I would say 90% of my friends are Elks members,” 14-year member Tracy Lapera said.
Lapera transferred her membership in 2013 when moving from Maryland to Lakewood Ranch. It was an easy way to meet new people.
“Besides all the good we do, it’s a social club,” Frost said.
Donating over $200,000 to charity last year alone is only a part of the good they do. Members are hands-on, especially when it comes to helping active service members, veterans and children.
Members pack monthly care packages for troops overseas, host free luncheons for local veterans and make hospital visits. The club also sponsors Manasota Operation Troop Support, a nonprofit that serves members of the military and their families, during and after deployment.
During December, the Elks turn into elves. They deliver cookies to fire stations and partner up with Walgreens to collect toys. Walgreens allows the club to place collection bins in local stores. Last year, the club distributed 6,000 toys to local kids in need.
Throughout the school year, members pack bags of food every Thursday to send home with elementary school students living in households that are food insecure. Elks Feed Empty Little Tummies is a partnership with Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee.
“When they’re in school, the school provides lunch for a lot of the kids,” Frost said. “We provide food for them on the weekends.”
The Elks support a mobile therapy program for children, so families don’t have to leave home to get the services they need. They offer college and camp scholarships, too.
“Everything we do goes back to our lodge and back to our charities,” Loyal Knight Alex Burke said. “Whether it’s having a 50/50, buying a dinner ticket or even just getting a drink, a portion of everything goes to one of the charitable organizations that we have to offer.”
At 32 years old, Burke is one of the “young” members. His dad, Leading Knight Kevin Burke, was an Elk when Alex Burke started bartending at the lodge. It only took six months before he wanted to step out from behind the bar and become a member, too.
Blood ties aside, what Alex Burke loves about being an Elk is that everybody becomes family.
“I have my wallet sitting on the bar right now, and I’m not worried about it,” he said from across the room. “We support each other. A lot of these people come in on a regular basis, whether it’s the same day every week or almost every day.”
In addition to paying a $25 application fee and annual dues of $97, every member has to pass a background check. Frost said the lodge is a safe place where women can feel comfortable going out alone.
“I love the people here, the camaraderie,” Charter Member Lori Valari said. “We have a brick out front that says, ‘It’s like ‘Cheers’ where everybody knows your name.”
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.