Marnie Burnell, president of the Clearwater Elks Lodge 499, said the club was already hurting due to lack of membership before COVID-19. The precautions put in place because of the virus have made club operations doubly worse. Photo by Jaime Polmateer

Clearwater Elks taking a hit because of COVID-19

President Marnie Burnell noted the group was already hurting before the pandemic came into effect

Members of the Clearwater Elks Lodge 499 are feeling the pinch as COVID-19 precautions continue into the summer.

Some of the club’s biggest moneymakers like the weekly pancake breakfast and its hall rentals have been scaled down because of social distancing rules, and president Marnie Burnell noted the group was already hurting before the pandemic came into effect.

“The Elks have been in trouble for a while because we’re a dying breed. It’s hard to find volunteers that aren’t in our age group,” said Burnell.

“We’re all getting old, so we’re getting less and less members all the time. We’re like any other service club.”

The weekly pancake breakfasts were a big draw before the pandemic, but now the group has reduced the servings to breakfast burgers because the pancake breakfast’s serve-yourself format doesn’t fit with COVID-19 precautions.

Another reason for changing the format came because it took roughly 10 volunteers to cook and serve the pancake breakfasts, and not only would this make it hard to socially distance, but many of the Elks’ volunteers are staying indoors because they’re seniors and they’re cautious about contracting the Coronavirus.

Burnell said the breakfast burgers, which can be purchased every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at the Elks Hall, are doing well, but it doesn’t bring in the same revenue as the full breakfasts did previously.

“And our hall rental has plummeted basically. We don’t rent our hall out nearly like we used to,” she said.

She added people and organizations who used to rent out the Elks Hall for events disappeared entirely when the pandemic first started, though it’s slowing increasing as precautions relax, and the club still has to pay for heat and other utilities at the building, which eats into their limited funds fairly rapidly.

The Elks also had to cancel its $1,000 yearly bursary that it gives to graduating students of Clearwater Secondary School because the amount equals about a third of its remaining funds, which when all totaled, won’t be able to get the club through the coming winter.

“We’ve been running on the money we made last year,” said Burnell.

“The only saving grace for us right now is we own our own building, so this winter if we don’t have the funds to keep it running, we can shut it down, we can turn the water and heat off and just walk away for the winter and it’s not going to hurt anything.”

Burnell added if people in the community want to help support the Elks, she encourages them to visit the hall at 72 Taren Dr. on a Saturday morning and grab a breaky burger.

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