At the same time, it is inspiring to witness the example of the everyday heroes reaching out in small ways: calling a neighbor, checking on senior citizens and those at risk, donating time and goods to help the community. These smaller acts also ripple out to create a larger tide of hope and build our community.
These last 6 weeks, I have had the privilege to be near the center of the response within the wider Masonic community in the District of Columbia; a close-up look at the quiet helpers, as well as witnessing the great positive impact that has had on our members and their families.
By now, I hope every member is well-aware of the swift action and coordination taken by Masonic organizations and appendant bodies in the early days of this pandemic to set up the Joint Masonic COVID Relief Fund (or just “The Fund”). First led by the Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter OES, St John’s Mite, Masonic Foundation, DC Scottish Rite, and MESH, this alliance now boasts contributions from 20 different local Masonic organizations. More than 75 brothers have contributed donations individually, and more come in each day. As of this writing we have raised over $75,000 for direct relief, with commitments of another $25,000. On top of this financial generosity, dozens have volunteered to dedicate their time to help those in need, pick up groceries, donate hard-to-find goods, and more.
These donations, of time and treasure, are having an incredible effect on your brothers, OES sisters, and their families. To date, more than $30,000 has been distributed to those most in need, with many more requests anticipated.
It is easy to say, “please give money,” and promise, “this is a good cause.” But allow me to share a few of the real situations that have been improved by these acts of kindness and Brotherly Love & Relief, demonstrating how small acts of kindness can come together for wider impact.
In one case, a brother of one of our Lodges has been overseas for a professional assignment, while his college-aged child was studying in a state far away from home. As the crisis hit, this brother found himself stranded at his deployment in another country, with access to the outside world shut down. Meanwhile, back in the States, his son’s school closed the dormitory and canceled classes. Suddenly, he was without a place to stay or a way to get back to his DC-area home and because of the situation in his assignment-country, his father couldn’t send him funds. With a few conversations our Masonic COVID Fund was able to help this brother and ensure he safely got home to his family.
In another circumstance, a brother’s father suddenly passed away due to the coronavirus, with his mother also exposed, though not infected. His parents’ home was contaminated, and several rooms would have to be entirely off limits for several weeks. Adding to the already stressful situation, the brother’s spouse had recently undergone her own medical procedures, which meant it would be impossible to bring anyone exposed to the virus into their home. With the help of several Masonic volunteers and the COVID Fund we were able to ensure this brother was able to care for his entire family, unexpected expenses, and that all appropriate safeguards were taken.
But the most common problem being faced is the unexpected loss of income due to furloughs or layoffs, and the general economic uncertainty. Most requests for assistance result in a 2-month reprieve through the Fund: routine expenses like mortgage or rent, utilities, and health insurance are paid by the Fund directly to the vendor. A small stipend for groceries is also provided in most cases. Critical to this is the assistance of the individual Lodges or Chapters – in each case we are sure to contact them so they know about a brother of theirs in need so we are becoming those helpers reaching out in ways both big and small.
While this ongoing crisis has taken its toll on everyone through forced social distancing and isolation and has already seen the deaths of more citizens than many wars, my position as the “COVID Czar” for our jurisdiction has allowed me to see the very best of Freemasonry. Being our brother’s keeper and reaching out in all of these ways isn’t merely clicking some buttons on a website, writing a check, or making a phone call, but please know that each of these things greatly contribute to the unique bonds of brotherhood that make Masonry special. And more so than anything else, it helps us realize how many “helpers” there are that also call us Brother.
Like all of you, I look forward to our return to Lodge rooms, late-night discussions, degree ceremonies and the familiar feeling of physically being amongst each other, but until then, it is all our responsibility to ensure we take proper precautions to safeguard ourselves and families from this terrible disease. Until I can offer my hand in a fraternal greeting, I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.