Masonic Angel Fund Press Releases

Up ]
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Friday, September 3rd, 2004


Print this Article
E-Mail this Article

Friday, September 3, 2004

Wachusett Watch

Gus
STEEVES
Wachusett Watch


Most people know that some children fall through the cracks.

Some have family money for their school and health needs, and some get state or federal assistance, but some float in the gray area between those, barely making ends meet.

That can be especially difficult in the Wachusett area, which has a reputation of being fairly well-off.

"People tend to see Holden as not the indigent, needy type, but some of our kids are," said John F. Sullivan, principal of Mountview Middle School in Holden. "We try to address our kids' needs in-house, but some needs we just can't address."

Beginning five years ago, Masons from Rutland's Rufus Putnam Lodge stepped in to help seal that gap with their Masonic Angel Fund.

Fund literature says their goal is to "provide modest assistance to needy children who do not fit the criteria for the usual social service programs."

But in practice, the fund is a way for local Masons to assist their community from behind the scenes, said fund trustee Norman A. Peterson, a 33rd degree Mason.

"We never know the names of these people. That's not our purpose. We make sure the product gets to the child," he said.

Such "products" can be almost anything. Masonic lodges in Massachusetts have paid for glasses, school supplies, karate lessons, fashion design classes, and even a case in which a Southbridge woman with twins needed emergency assistance to get an apartment after being kicked out by her husband, Mr. Peterson said.

"Even when there's something we can't do, we try not to let the school walk away empty-handed," said fund co-founder Robert W. Fellows of Orleans.

Unlike many social services, this fund will not pay directly to parents. Instead, it works through school staff, usually principals and nurses, because "they buy the stuff and know if the need is true," trustee Kenneth A. Starbard said.

Such indirectness helps both ways. For the Masons, it minimizes the chance that someone will come begging for money for other things they can't afford and protects them from "conflict of interest," Mr. Peterson and Mr. Starbard said.

For the schools, it allows them to protect the students' confidentiality, Mr. Sullivan said.

Including the Rutland lodge, the fund has 87 branches in nine states, said Mr. Fellows. He came up with the idea in 1998 while working on a child identification program in his local school, where he saw several kids with taped-together glasses and damaged, ill-fitting clothing, Mr. Fellows said.

"I found there's a whole group of kids who fell through the gap for social services," he said. "They come from middle or low income parents who are working but can't afford $300 for a pair of glasses when the need arises."

Mr. Peterson added that many assisted children have been from broken families, several being raised by grandparents or even great-grandparents.

Most of them were in elementary school "because grammar schools are easiest to work with," but a few were older, Mr. Peterson said.

Mr. Fellows added that the programs now cover between a third and half of the state's communities. A list of them can be found online at www.masonicangelfund.org.

Gus Steeves is a correspondent in the Telegram & Gazette's Holden bureau.