Friday, September 3, 2004
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 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.
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.
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.
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.