AUGUSTA — The coronavirus pandemic muted formal New Year’s Day celebrations around the country, but Elks Lodge officials still held their annual New Year’s potluck brunch Friday.

Exalted Ruler Lina Michaud waits for people to arrive Friday for a New Year’s Day brunch at the Augusta Elks Lodge. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

While the crowd was thin at Friday’s event, tables were spaced far apart in the lodge’s largest room and attendees were all wearing masks when they weren’t eating or drinking. Masks and hand sanitizer were positioned at the entrance of the lodge, and the bartender at the lodge was shielded by multiple plexiglass barriers.

Exalted Ruler Lina Michaud said she would plan the day again in a heartbeat, even though very few people attended the event. Michaud said that officials have had to think outside of the box to keep events going so their members can have a place to go during the pandemic.

“When we reopened in May, I had one of our members come up to me and say ‘you saved my life,'” Michaud said. “He needed this interaction and a place to come.”

Michaud said that some members have asked why they were holding events and inquired as to how they were being conducted. Michaud said events have been smaller during the pandemic, and geared toward keeping traditions alive.

“We want to stay with traditions and stay on course,” she said. “If it’s five people, it’s five people. They needed it that day.”

Lorana Laliberte, the chairperson of the lodge’s House Committee, said that the lodge helps raise money for community organizations and it was important to continue events to fundraise. She added that it was important for the lodge’s 857 members to know that the lodge is still open “in a time where the world is so crazy.”

“It’s a tight community,” she said. “We like to be open for our members so they have a place to go and socialize. These traditions … are embedded in peoples’ holiday tradition.”

Lina Michaud’s husband, Mike Michaud,  a former exalted ruler and current Augusta city councilor, said that there have been no outbreaks related to the lodge.

Andy Mann, another member of the Elks’ House Committee, said it was great to have the lodge as a place to go during the pandemic.

“People are just dying to get out,” he said. “We all know that we’ve got to do it safe and things have changed. Everybody’s safe here and we all wear our masks.”

Some of the lodge’s annual events have looked different during the pandemic, with some forced onto Facebook Livestreams, Zoom video conference and annual Christmas celebrations moved to a drive-thru style event.

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