Community Portrait: She’s Elks Club’s lifeline who brings touch of home to troops

By: Story and photo by Michael Kirby
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It was an easy decision for Auburn’s Elaine Jenanyan.
Jenanyan has been a member of the Auburn Elks Lodge 1691 for four years, joining the service group after being invited to their famous Taco Tuesday by friends who were members.
The club seemed a good fit. She had volunteered some with the Elks during their functions, but when the opportunity came to head up an effort to send care boxes to military personnel connected to our area serving in combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, Jenanyan jumped at the chance to lead the project.
The suggestion surfaced at a meeting.
“It wasn’t my idea, but we wanted to serve people from the Auburn area, active military that are serving in combat zones, preferably a soldier with a connection to the Auburn area,” Jenanyan said. The recipient need not be from the Auburn area, but maybe had a connection to the area, maybe a relative here, she said.
At first, a member’s son was serving in an outpost in Afghanistan in the Taliban area.
“We sent him boxes and he shared with his fellow soldiers because the outpost had few people in it. We would send him two or three boxes,” Jenanyan said. The soldier would lay out the contents of the care boxes and his buddies would be able to pick through and have a little taste of home.
The boxes contained simple items like chewing gum, mouth fresheners, treats like hard candy, items to help the soldiers deal with the hot, dusty conditions: moist wipes they could put in their pockets to wipe the dust from their faces and eyes; small things like disposal toothbrushes with toothpaste already on the brush, concentrated flavoring that could be added to water. Snacks, cookies, crackers anything they could fit in their pockets while they were out on duty.
“It kind of just fell to me. I had two children who were veterans. It was a new project, I was a new member of the Elks, it just kind of fit with me,” Jenanyan said.
Jenanyan collects donations from Elks or community members who want to donate suitable goodies for the boxes. She also collects money donations and purchases items for the boxes. She organizes the recyclables from the Elks activities at the lodge, collects them and turns them in at a recycling center, using the money to buy more items or for postage on the boxes. This is one of the donations the Elks Lodge makes to the project. Jenanyan handles all the sorting and packing of the boxes and sends them overseas in the largest flat rate box available at the post office.
Since January 2012, when the Elks started the project, Jenanyan has sent more than  50 boxes overseas. She sends nine to 15 boxes at a time,  depending on the donations. At Christmas time and other holidays, she sends special things that might give a soldier a small remembrance of home, a special candy or a few greeting cards.
Many times soldiers have responded with thank-you notes and photos of them enjoying the treats. Some have even made requests to continue sending them to a friend when they leave the combat zones. Local Girl Scout Troops have donated cookies to the project and will help pack the next shipment of boxes.
“All soldiers, no matter where they are from, know Girl Scout cookies and enjoy them,” Jenanyan said.
The soft-spoken Jenanyan goes about this wonderful service quietly, though twice she has been recognized for her service by the Elks.
“Until the troops come home and we have names of soldiers to send the boxes to we will keep doing it,” Jenanyan said.
Anyone who knows a soldier currently serving in a combat zone that may like a box sent to them can contact Jenanyan at (530) 885-5911. Jenanyan also is accepting donations from the public of suitable supplies for the boxes, or money to buy supplies for the boxes.