There are times when an outreach effort could use just a little more light to help a community see the cause and its consequences.
For the past five years, the Sedalia Elks Lodge has been collecting donated deer hides as part of a national lodge program to provide gloves for veterans as well as leather for use in veterans’ therapy programs. The Elks National Veterans Service Commission was launched in 1946 and has been running its Veterans Leather Program for years; according to the Elks website (elks.org), more than 15,000 hides were donated to the program last year.
Doug Tilman, a member of the Sedalia lodge, said Missouri has been the leading contributor to the national program for the past four years. Last year, the Sedalia lodge collected 66 deer hides and is hopeful to top that total this year.
“Each lodge that participates collects hides for their lodge from their area,” Tilman told me. “We collect from the start of bow season through the January hunt. Then we have a representative from our district who picks up and takes them to Chuck Mudge, the coordinator for the state of Missouri; he is the one who hauls them off to the tannery in Tennessee.”
From the tannery the hides are transported to a factory where the gloves are made and excess is cut into sections for use in leather craft projects at VA hospitals. The gloves are distributed directly to VA facilities, but Tilman said Mudge sells some at the Elks’ spring and fall state conventions to help him recoup his fuel costs from driving across the state collecting the hides and taking them to Tennessee.
When a hide is donated, lodge members cut out the excess flesh and score and salt them, lay them out on pallets and cover them with tarps until it is time to transport them to the tannery. That is the last the local lodge members see of the hides – unless they are fortunate enough to purchase a pair of gloves from Mudge, as Tilman did.
“I got a pair, but I lost one of them,” he said. “I was pretty mad about that. They are nice.”
Tilman’s pair are full gloves, but fingerless versions are made for disabled veterans who must use wheelchairs.
Some lodges bring in 100 or more hides each year for the program. Tilman said the Sedalia lodge has put up fliers and notices seeking donations, and this year for the first time is incorporating Facebook to generate awareness. As of Wednesday, the local lodge had 33 hides donated.
“We’re not doing too bad – hopefully we will end up somewhere close to where we were last year,” Tilman said.
If you have a hide you would like to donate, call the lodge at 826-5391 after 3 p.m. weekdays.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.