By Stephen J. Kotz
It’s a Sag Harbor tradition. Every year, right around Thanksgiving, members of the Sag Harbor Lions Club set up at the Long Wharf windmill, where they sell Christmas trees as one of their major fundraisers.
But this year, Steven Espach, who is in his second year as the club’s president, wants the community to know that changes have come to the local service club, which was formed in 1954.
“The club has been strong in the past,” Mr. Espach said, “but recently we have stabilized our membership, with the addition of women, and increased our involvement in the community.”
Mr. Espach, who was born and raised in Sag Harbor, returned to the East End in 2013, to help care for his father, Robert Espach, a local attorney and charter member of the local club, who has since passed away. “It was a good way to do something with my dad, but it also helped me do something good for the community,” he said of joining the club.
The club started with 20 members and grew to as many as 75 members in the late 1970s, before its numbers began to decline as more families faced an economic reality that required both spouses to work and made it more difficult for men to devote the time needed to the club, he said.
Although the Lions Club began allowing women, who were formerly relegated to an auxiliary role as Lionesses, in 1986, Sag Harbor’s club did not have any women until 2015. Today, seven of its 31 members are women, Mr. Espach said. Lions Club International is also encouraging family memberships, with a discounted dues structure, as another way to help clubs remain strong.
In the meantime, Mr. Espach said the club is expanding it charitable activities and in recent years has donated about $20,000 annually to causes ranging from the Guide Dog Foundation to scholarships for Pierson High School seniors — three grants totaling $5,500 were awarded last year.
One of the Lions Club’s original missions was in protecting vision, and the club still collects donated eyeglasses, which are refurbished and distributed to the needy. It has also expanded its focus to fighting diabetes, hunger and pediatric cancer, as well protecting the environment.
Locally, the Lions donate $1,000 each year to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, and this year, the club donated $2,400 to Lions Clubs in Texas, which had been affected by Hurricane Harvey, Mr. Espach said. Later, it made donations of $1,000 each for relief for the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Since becoming president of the club, Mr. Espach has also launched a club website, sagharborlionsclub.org.
Christmas trees were expected to arrive on Wednesday for the annual sale. Volunteers will be at the windmill on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and afternoons Tuesday through Friday.
The Lions will also sponsor a cocktail reception to raise money for the Guide Dog Foundation on December 9 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton.