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Wildwood Elks Honor Veterans by Reviving a Christmas Tradition: Lunch at the Lodge

Vince Conti
Veterans attend the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge 1896’s annual Christmas luncheon, Dec. 6, the first such event since 2019 due to the pandemic.

By Vince Conti

NORTH WILDWOOD – Forced to suspend its annual Christmas luncheon for veterans during the pandemic, the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge 1896 revived that tradition this year, holding its first celebration since 2019 and the eighth since the event began in 2013.

The Elks volunteers who organized the event estimated that about 60 veterans turned out Wednesday, Dec. 6, for the luncheon, held at the lodge, with a number of them from the Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland and from two local nursing homes with veteran populations.

Some veterans managed to get there on their own, even when wheelchair-bound, displaying the same ingenuity and perseverance that they brought to their service for the country.

Wildwood High School Choir members partake in the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge 1896’s annual Christmas luncheon for veterans. Photo Credit: Vince Conti

Located in North Wildwood at 109 W. 1st Ave., Lodge 1896 boasts one of the largest memberships among lodges around the country. It has an active Veterans Committee that organizes activities and support programs for veterans throughout the year, including a summer picnic at the Cape May County Zoo.

A contingent of young people from the Wildwood High School Choir started the festivities off with song. Later, the same students helped to distribute dessert to those veterans with mobility limitations.

For the students, who as one veteran said seem to get younger every year, it was an opportunity to meet men and women who served and protected the nation long before they were born. It was a living history lesson on the importance of remembering that sacrifice.

The menu this year shifted from the meat loaf dinner provided in 2019 to a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. As in past luncheons, there were also plenty of cheeseburgers and hot dogs for the young people or for any veteran who preferred them. Patriotically decorated cookies were served for dessert.

Patriotically decorated cookies at the Greater Wildwood Elks Lodge 1896’s annual Christmas luncheon for veterans, Dec. 6. Photo Credit: Vince Conti

Around the room Marine Corps hats, Army pins and Navy sweatshirts were much in evidence. Traditional service rivalries surfaced in some good-natured humor.

Service stories were shared during the lunch. One table heard the tale of a young Navy sonar operator who happened to be deployed on a frigate in the eastern Mediterranean on Oct. 23, 1983, when the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut claimed the lives of 241 service members. Similar stories were heard around the room.

Presents at the base of this Christmas tree will be distributed to children in need. Photo Credit: Vince Conti

Mobility issues hampered many of the veterans in attendance, but for some this became a challenge they have learned to live with and even master.

One wall at the lodge displays the names of dozens of donors who provide the funds for the lodge’s various outreach efforts.

Separate from the veterans programming but present in the room was a Christmas tree surrounded with wrapped presents.

Local schools and social aid organizations identified 109 children in need of Christmas presents. The names went up on the tree and were almost immediately retrieved. The presents have built up around the tree’s base, soon to be distributed to those children.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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