Sussex Elks and students join forces to help veterans

| 09 Feb 2012 | 03:50

NEWTON — A chance reading of a newspaper article led to a beneficial collaboration between Sussex Elks Lodge 2288 and the Newton High School Agriculture Department. Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler Fred Spages, of Newton, read that the agriculture students were butchering locally killed animals donated by hunters, processing the meat, and giving it through Hunters Helping the Hungry to NORWESCAP. Newton High School is one of only two high schools in the state to participate in this program. Spages spoke to Agriculture Department teacher Worth Christian and asked what they did with the hides. When he was told they were discarded, Spages told Christian how the department could get involved with the Elks Leather Program. Christian saw the value in using the hides and a collaboration was established. The students learned the technique necessary for properly skinning the deer without damaging the hide, cleaning the flesh off and salting it for storage. Because the hide collection began after hunting season had started, the students were only able to collect a limited amount of them. Starting next hunting season, the plan is to process every hide donated to the school. The group processes 5-10 deer a week during hunting season. Knowing that donated deer not only feed the hungry but also help veterans, the hope is that more hunters will donate their deer to Newton High School next season. "It was a good economic use of the hides and they were going to a great cause," said Newton High School senior and Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter President Alex Feltwater. Several FAA students are now involved in the program. The Elks Leather Program was initiated in 1948. Since then, raw hides have continued to be collected, cleaned, salted and shipped to a tannery in Wartrace, TN, where they are finished in brilliant colors. The leather is then shipped to medical facilities that serve veterans throughout the country. Today, Elks in 20 states participate in the program. Last year, more than 20,000 hides were collected, prepared and shipped for processing - over 800 from NJ alone. The finished hides become craft kits, fingerless gloves for wheelchair-bound veterans, or craft leather for veterans hospital therapy and recreational programs. The total value of all leather products produced last year was $273,221.