VERNON COUNTY, Mo. — A local Elks Lodge is participating in a national program that turns deer hides into gloves and other items for veterans. In this Veterans Voices report, we go to Compton Junction, just outside of Nevada, for a look at all the work being done by volunteers.
“Now we’ve finally gotten some more processors that are throwing the hides our way instead of throwing them in the dumpster,” said Brian Smith, West Central Missouri Elks, Veterans Deer Hide Program District Chairman.
Taking something that others may throw away and turning it into a useful item for veterans. That’s what the Elks Lodge in Nevada has been up to since Monday night, and they will be for many months, really, until hunting season is over.
“There’s two different styles. These have the fingers in them and the other ones are finger-less. The finger-less ones are for wheelchair-bound veterans only or veterans that need a little hand cushion. And then you take one of these lovely hides and we gather these all up, and we salt them and pile them up on pallets,” said Smith.
“With the finger-less gloves, the people in the wheelchairs, why, it’s great,” said Don Meisenheimer, Veteran & Nevada Elks Lodge Veterans Deer Hide Committee.
It’s called the Veterans Leather Program. In 2022 and 2023, 11 states collected hides for the program. Missouri collected the most hides, with the Nevada Elks’ district providing 33-percent of all the collected hides. The group just started for this year on Monday night, and by Tuesday evening, they already had 245 hides processed.
“And then they take them to Tennessee, and they end up with these really great gloves that say ‘Elks’ on them,” said Smith.
“These gloves are second to none. They’re very soft leather, and you know, you get them dirty, just take them into your sink and wash them out with dish soap and squeeze them out and lay them out and let them dry, and you go to put them on the next day, and they’re just as soft the next day as they were when you bought them,” said Meisenheimer.
And even though it’s a long, often messy process, there’s a reason why the Elks in Nevada continue to do this each year.
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“Elks care, Elks Share.’ And that’s part of every Elk Creed when you are initiated; that’s part of the thing that, you know, you’re either in it to give back, or you’re not very involved,” said Smith.
The gloves are not the only item these hides can turn into. The leftover hides are used to make leather sewing kits for veterans who may have injuries to their hands. Practicing sewing the deer leather helps to rework fine motor skills and dexterity.
In the spring after hunting season is over, the hides will head for Tennessee to a tannery to then be made into different products for veterans.