Bears That Care: Free Masons Donate Stuffed Animals To Children Affected By Homelessness
“Free Masonry,” explained Matthew Frakes, “in its most simplistic form is one of the world’s oldest and largest fraternities. Our mission is making good men better and we are rooted in the principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth.”
Each of those principles was put into action by members of the Rockingham Union Masonic Lodge Number 27 upon delivery of a box of stuffed bears to Mercy House this past Friday, May 12. Frakes serves as the master of Lodge 27 this year and set the teddy bear project into motion when he started raising funds amongst members six months ago.
“One of the focuses for me was that I really want [the Free Masons’] lives to be actively involved in the community,” Frakes stated, “and this teddy bear drop-off to Mercy House is a small way of being active in the community. It might seem like it makes a small impact, but maybe to a kid that’s going through a rather traumatic or life changing event it provides a bit of comfort in that moment [and means the world].”
The bears — numbering 50 in all — were each dressed in a white tee shirt bearing a printed Masonic emblem on the front.
Funding for the project was raised by means of a free will donation collected for meals held before each of the lodges regular meetings. Whether it was the food or the cause that drew people to the fundraisers is unclear, but members of sister lodges from as far as Woodstock started attending meetings after the fundraiser portion was advertised.
Mercy House has served Harrisonburg and Rockingham County as a family shelter for those seeking refuge from homelessness since 1988. They operate a 90 day program that is centered around getting homeless families back on track, working with shelter residents to give them the tools they need to find placement in a more stable environment. Noah Yoder works with many of the children as a housing counselor Mercy House.
“The local support is greatly appreciated and the children in our shelter really appreciate it too,” Yoder said. “[The bears] are going to be put to good use.”
Shannon Porter — executive director at Mercy House — spoke on the lasting impact something as simple as the stuffed bears will have.
“We won’t really know until they meet their new owners,” Porter mentioned. “I know what its like for children coming out of homelessness and coming to our shelter, often times crying. Something like this is going to change that and let them know it’s going to be okay and that’s the real power behind it.”
While the lodge has purchased and donated bears to other organizations in the past, its never been a recurring project. Frakes’ goal for the future is to continue the teddy bear deliveries as an annual event and be able to pass the torch to new masters of the lodge that will take his place in the coming years.
Russell Pence — who has been a member of the lodge since 2005 — will be replacing Frakes as master next year and has high hopes for more bears in the future.
“We would like to grow this to [be able to relieve] other organizations,” Pence said. “The more money we can raise, the more we are going to try and spread this [project] throughout the community.”
In other words, what started with a delivery of 50 bears has the potential to turn into a delivery of 150 bears and continue to multiply from there.