Jay Copp 2015-01-14 06:30:09
We don’t hibernate. And often our service is seasonally appropriate. Club Saves Lives When Temperatures Plunge How cold does it get in Bethel, Alaska? Two years ago the average temperature in February was 19 below. That winter was colder than normal but not exactly atypical. The ice in the Kuskokwim River usually does not break up until May. How isolated is the town of 6,500? The town is not part of the state’s skimpy road grid. Snowmobiles and airplanes are preferred modes of transportation. Barges can deliver goods and food only in the summer. Gasoline is $6.75 a gallon, a carton of milk costs $8 and a seasonal delicacy such as a fistful of peppers sets you back $9. “It’s a subsistence lifestyle for a lot of people: hunting, fishing and berry picking,” says Lion Ross Boring, an educator who teaches children of migrant workers. Survival seems even more tenuous during the long, mostly dark winter. Bethel enjoys a whole 5.6 hours of daytime on the shortest day of the year in December. The town’s frigid weather, coupled with its isolation and limited economy, does indeed make life more risky. Six people died of exposure in unheated buildings during the awful winter of 2013. Last year only one person died of exposure. Credit goes to a new Lions club and its shelter for the homeless. The club was founded specifically to protect people from the cold, and the Bethel Winter House Lions Club sheltered 88 people last winter over 90 days. Rotating between facilities at two churches, the overnight shelter counted 1,500 guest stays and served 3,300 meals. Fifty-seven volunteers including Lions staffed the shelter. The club secured $13,000 in donations from residents and businesses to operate the shelter. Donations even came from churches and people in the Lower 48. Prior to the shelter, the options for those without means were the emergency room at the hospital, a sobering center or the jail. Some people fabricated illness to gain time in the emergency room, and others drank just to be admitted to the sobering center. But Bethel, unlike the closest villages, is a “wet” community where alcohol can be purchased without restriction. “Alcohol is an issue here. We used to be a ‘damp’ community were you could buy only so much for your own use,” says Boring, who helps coordinate the shelter. The new club makes two: the 32-member Bethel Lions Club was chartered in 1962. Past District Governor Dottie Vasquez helped launch the new club. New Lion Eva Malvich, a Yupik who works at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, also helped establish the shelter. Boring moved to Alaska from Montana 25 years ago to enjoy “the Alaska experience.” A Lion since 2006, he understands that part of that lifestyle is looking out for one another. “I’ve always given of myself to different projects,” he says. Lions Sell Trees, Warm Hearts The bonfire built by Wrentham Lions in Massachusetts on their Christmas tree lot warded off the cold but also brought people together. “It creates such a nice, cozy, warm feeling,” says Lion Greg Stahl. “Customers put their hands over the fire. Kids poke sticks in it. I was a country boy, so I can tell you people have a relationship with fire.” Lions in suburban-like Wrentham, located 30 miles from Boston, began selling balsam firs and Frasers four years ago after a landscaping store that sold Christmas trees closed. The first year the club’s sales were poor, and it made only $1,800. Lions sold 220 trees in 2013 and netted $4,000. “We were beginners. It took us until the third year until we figured it out,” says Stahl. The trees, hauled in freshly-cut from northern Maine, are sold on American Legion property just off Main Street. The spirit of the season draws in customers, and that same spirit motivates them as generous buyers. “During the Christmas season people love to buy trees where the money goes to charity,” explains Stahl. “People will say to us, ‘Here’s 50 bucks. Buy a tree for someone in need.’” The club actually does that as a matter of course. In 2013 the dozen or so unsold trees were given to patrons of a food pantry. Seasonal Task Brings Holiday Cheer Don’t let the red “Bah Humbug” hat fool you. John “Benny” Benevento, president of the Fairbanks Host Lions Club in Alaska, brings the Christmas spirit—and music—to downtown Fairbanks. Each year he programs Christmas music into the clock tower at Golden Heart Plaza. During the non-Christmas season the clock plays a mixture of patriotic music, show tunes, jazz and old traditionals. But in December songs such as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” play after every15-minute bell chime. The clock tower actually was put up by a Rotarian club in 1990, and Rotarians upgraded it last year. But Benevento, a retired electrical engineer, takes on the duty of making it seasonal—evincing the Christmas spirit by yielding to popular tastes. He prefers more traditional or religious Christmas songs but still programs in songs he does not like. Lion John “Benny” Benevento switches the clock tower in Fairbanks to a holiday format.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Lions+in+Winter/1906186/242281/article.html.