Since 1994 the Virginia City Elks Lodge # 390 has donated more than $12,000 to Fort Harrison Veteran’s Administration Hospital and the Cruse House in Helena to help with the costs of providing services to patients.
Lodge #390 has contributed more than 40 percent of the total funds donated by Elks lodges throughout the state. The money was raised through collecting deer, elk and livestock hides from local hunters and ranchers. While the market for hides has changed over the years, John Claypool of Ennis explains that the program is nothing new.
“It was quite a competition between all the different lodges,” Claypool said.
In the past hides were taken to Butte where they were loaded onto trucks and taken to a tannery before being delivered to the Fort Harrison VA Hospital. Patients worked with the tanned hides to learn leatherworking skills as part of their rehabilitation.
Eventually the program was modified and the Elks simply donated the profits from collecting skins to the hospital. The hides are collected at donation barrels throughout the county, cured by local volunteers and sold to hide buyers.
The donations are used to pay for some of the non-essential patient services at the 45-bed hospital and the 12-bed Cruse House, a transitional living facility for homeless veterans. These services include televisions sets and monthly cable TV at the Helena facilities as well as bottled water at Continuing Care Clinics in Anaconda, Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Havre.
Claypool explained that patriotism is a large part of what the Elks stand for as an organization, and in his opinion they can’t do enough to help veterans.
“We’re very fortunate to have those people volunteer to take care of us,” he said. “They are who we owe our freedoms to.”
David Hartnett has been the Elks representative for the Fort Harrison VA Hospital since 1979. He said that without the donations from the Elks lodges, patients at the Helena facility would not have cable TV because the VA cannot afford it.
“I’m always looking for ways to impact the hospital there,” Hartnett said, adding that the Elks motto is as long as there’s a veteran in the hospital the Elks won’t forget them.