MASSENA - The sign at the door of the Massena Elks Lodge 1702 gave a hearty welcome to veterans on Monday.
Welcome veterans. Thank you for your service, it read.
Inside, the Elks members were providing their own thank you to veterans - a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
Norm Lazore, a member of the clubs Veterans Committee, said that by the time the serving was done, they expected to have fed between 180 to 200 people.
We did about 180 last year. Were hoping our numbers will increase, he said as he stood in a banquet room that was filled to capacity with diners.
They filter out. We have guys filtering in and out, Mr. Lazore said.
The meal preparation included the cooking of 13 turkeys to ensure theyd have enough to go around. Whites Farm Market provided the squash and potatoes for the feast.
Meals on Wheels volunteers to let us use their oven space because of the sheer number of turkeys that needed to be cooked, Exalted Ruler Jim Root said.
Volunteers took care of the cooking, as well as delivering the meals to the tables and picking up afterward. Among them were students who were on a Veterans Day break from school.
Everybody believes in it, Mr. Lazore said of the volunteers.
We have a lot of family members, Mr. Root added.
Student Abigail Elman was among the handful of student volunteers. She said this was the third time she had volunteered for the Veterans Day effort, and it leaves an impression on her.
One man started crying. Hes been a member here for 67 years, she said.
Mr. Lazore said they began serving meals to veterans of the St. Regis and Highland nursing homes 12 to 15 years. This is the fourth or fifth year in which theyve opened it up to veterans from the community, he said.
A couple of vets have seen their buddies, he said.
This year, the Elks had more turkey to serve after the last veteran had been fed. From 5 to 7 p.m. they opened their doors to the general public to provide a turkey dinner - again, with all the trimmings - for $8 a person. All proceeds will be donated to the United Service Organization.
Mr. Root said the North Central District of the New York State Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was challenged this year to raise funds in support of Fort Drum USO. The USO provides care package items, greet soldiers at the Fort Drum flight line when they return home from Afghanistan, supports Wounded Warriors, hosts programs like United Through Reading, and maintains a state-of-the-art center filled with amenities and activities.
He said the Elks have long been military supporters. During World War I, the Elks funded the first two field hospitals in France and also built a 72-room community house in Camp Sherman, Ohio. They also built a 700-bed rehabilitation hospital in Boston and raised money for the Salvation Armys frontline Canteens.
During World War II, the Elks was one of the only civilian organizations who helped recruit construction workers and contributed books to the Merchant Marines.
And during the Korean conflict, Elks donated more than 500,000 pints of blood to help wounded soldiers and also donated money for a recreation pavilion at the Navy Hospital on Guam, for casualties of the Vietnam War.
Now, Mr. Lazore and Mr. Root said, it was time to support the military in another way.
This evening were trying something new with the public for the benefit of the USO with Fort Drum so close, Mr. Lazore said.
So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them. We thought that it would be a suitable day to also raise money in support of the Fort Drum USO, so this year we will open our lodge to the public on Veterans Day from 5 to 7 p.m. for a turkey dinner with all the fixings for $8 per person with all proceeds donated to the USO, he said.
In addition, the Elks Lodge is doing a pie sale with the proceeds to benefit their Veterans Committee.
Were going to do it the day before Thanksgiving, Mr. Root said.