MCALLEN, Texas – One of the Rio Grande Valley’s oldest charitable organizations is celebrating 100 years of serving the community. 

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or simply the Elks, of McAllen will commemorate its centennial on Dec. 28 of this year.

Milly Hernandez, Exalted Ruler of Elks Lodge #1402, spoke to Rio Grande Guardian Editor-in-Chief Steve Taylor about the group and its philanthropic work throughout its long history.

Milly Hernandez

Established in 1868 as a fraternal order in New York, the Elks vowed “to promote and practice the four cardinal virtues of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity.” In the decades since, the order has come under fire for allegations of discrimination. It was not until 1973 that minorities were allowed membership and not until 1995 for women. Hernandez acknowledged the group’s history, but says she is proof that things have changed.

“That’s how the organization’s evolved throughout the 100 years,” said Hernandez. “With that being said, I am the third female that leads McAllen Elks [Lodge] #1402, and I am the first female Hispanic that leads this organization in the 100 years that it’s been in existence here in McAllen.”

Despite the blemish of its past, the Elks’ unwavering commitment to its charity work remains un-eclipsed. Hernandez says this is how she came to know the group and eventually become a member.

“I really fell in love with the aspect of the grants and how they invest in the community,” said Hernandez. “And, that’s basically how I decided to get involved with the Elks.” Nationally, the organization dedicates itself to veterans, youth programs and educational scholarships.

In addition to these, Hernandez highlighted events such as “Cansgiving,” its collaboration with University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s student group, Enactus, to provide meals for needy families during the Thanksgiving holiday. The Texas Elks Camp in Gonzales, Texas, a summer camp for special needs children, is another cause for which Lodge #1402 raises money. As a chair for the Elks National Foundation, Hernandez also does grant writing for the benefit of Hidalgo County, including securing funds to help during the coronavirus.

Reflecting on the last century, Hernandez encouraged Valley residents to join the Elks and continue its legacy.

“We think this organization does a lot for this community, and we’ve been here for 100 years for a reason,” said Hernandez. “ … It is one of the best kept secrets in McAllen.”

For more information about the Elks Lodge #1402, call 956-686-3902 or email them at [email protected]

McAllen Elks Lodge #1402 is located at 3500 Jordan Rd.

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