GRANITE CITY — The Granite City Elks Lodge No. 1063 is no stranger in the community.
They have orchestrated many fundraisers and have supported worthy causes, including food banks, the USO and people with disabilities. This year, the Granite City Elks received a $2,500 grant from the Elks National Foundation to be used at their discretion.
Respected Elks member Sonny Ambuehl championed the effort to choose a worthy recipient. He consulted Niedringhaus United Methodist Church, where he is a parishioner. Together, the two groups unanimously chose Riverbend Head Start’s Granite City South Center.
“It was an easy decision,” Sonny’s wife, Karen Ambuehl, said. “The mission of the Elks organization and of our church match that of Riverbend Head Start & Family Services. We are all committed to assisting people in need. We knew that by helping the children enrolled at the Granite City Head Start Center, we’d be helping the kids right here, in our own neighborhoods.”
Sonny reached out to the Payless ShoeSource store in the Nameoki Commons in Granite City. Store manager Karlie assisted Sonny and his group of fellow Elks and church members in coordinating a New Shoe Day for the Head Start students. Karlie also connected Sonny with a corporate representative from Payless who allowed the group generous store discounts, stretching the grant money as far as possible.
In all, 101 students received new footwear and, thanks to the Payless discounts, many were able to acquire several pairs of new socks, too. Families were assigned time slots to shop and to meet the Elks and church members on Aug 18. Paw Patrol, Ninja Turtles and Disney Princess character shoes, particularly ones that light up, were the favorite choices. Several families opted to buy warm boots in preparation for the winter months.
“Thanks so much for this; it’s a big help,” one mom said as she shook the hand of every Elk and church member present for the event. When asked if he liked his new shoes, her son exclaimed, “Yep! I’m going to run fast in these!”
“Seeing the kids’ excitement and the gratitude of the parents makes my day,” Karlie said, smiling.
“We are just really happy to partner with the local Elks and help the great people in our community,” her co-worker Sara said. “This has been a wonderful experience.”
Present for the event were Elks Lodge 1063 members Sonny Ambuehl, Al Leavell, Ron Smith and Ron’s wife, Carolyn. They were joined by Karen Ambuehl, Clancy Ellebracht, Stan Myers and Louise Ware of Niedringhaus United Methodist Church.
Riverbend Head Start & Family Services PR Director Heather Hope thanked the Elks for their generosity.
“Community support like this is so important to our families and helps us achieve our goal to prepare at-risk children for success in kindergarten,” she said. “Having shoes that fit comfortably makes a big difference in a child’s ability to learn.”
Grant money remaining after New Shoe Day was used to purchase 35 school supply-filled backpacks that were raffled off to Head Start students at the Back-to-School Bash at the Granite City South Head Start Center on Aug. 22.
Riverbend Head Start & Family Services operates six centers in Madison County and serves 800 impoverished and at-risk children, ages birth to 5. The organization’s mission is to empower children and their families to develop positive skills to meet life’s challenges.