‘Tall Elks’ wraps families in coats

Chilly winds have blown through the Hood River Valley this winter, but thanks to the Tall Elks program, members of needy local families have new coats to keep them warm.

The program was started around five years ago by George Johnson, deputy of the Oregon Elks’ Northeast District.

“George named it ‘Tall Elks’ not because he’s a big guy — about 6’7’’ — but because you stand tall when you give to people,” said Elks Exalted Ruler Steve Johnisee.

Johnisee coordinates around $500-700 each year that goes to Michelle Westfall to purchase coats for low income families identified by The Next Door, Inc.

“If there’s a kid who needs a coat, New Parent Services or one of the people who works with the low income families will let me know, and I’ll go off to Wal-Mart or K-mart or wherever I can find the best deal,” said Westfall. “When I get low on money, I just ask Steve and George for more.”

The project is funded through donations to the Elks, at 386-1507.

Johnisee described seeing a mother waiting outside his Hood River business, Your Rental and Party Center.

“She gave me a ‘thank you’ card from her son,” he said. “It makes you feel good when you get a kid writing to say thanks for a warm coat.”

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