Last week, Monroe County House of Neighborly Service was presented with a pleasant surprise at the Waterloo Masonic Lodge #787 fellowship dinner prior to their meeting.
Combined, the Waterloo Masonic Lodge and an Illinois Grand Lodge Charity donated $5,250 to the HNS summer lunch program.
HNS members and Waterloo Masonic Lodge representatives gathered around an oversized check for a photo opportunity, yet HNS members were told not to look at the check until after the picture was taken.
The $5,000 check from the Illinois Masonic Children’s Assistance Program, a Grand Lodge charity, was a lot more than the group was expecting, HNS Executive Director Tina Charron said.
“We were all shocked,” Charron said. “They had us take the picture with (the photographer) and they were like ‘No peeking at the check,’ and then we all looked and everybody was just shocked.”
HNS members were not the only ones not expecting such a large donation. The Waterloo Masonic Lodge planned to donate $250 and reached out to IMCAP in hopes of them matching the donation. After talking with HNS about the summer lunch program, IMCAP decided to donate a total of $5,000.
“I was floored,” Waterloo Masonic Lodge Secretary Richard Layton said of learning of the donation. “I was very humbled that the Grand Lodge charity saw the importance of the work that’s being done by not only the House of Neighborly Service, but also the churches and other organizations here in Monroe County (that assist with the summer lunch program) to help insure the children and the families that need assistance, specifically meals, get taken care of.”
Layton said the Waterloo Masonic Lodge has been helping with the summer lunch program for several years, as there has always been a need in the community. However, he said the pandemic added another dimension to the food insecurity members of the community face.
“We’re taking care of children who – by no fault of their own – are in a situation and they need some help, so we are stepping up in any way that we can so that the children can better themselves and also help their families better themselves,” Layton said, later adding, “When COVID started, we found out that (for) some of these families, specifically for some of these school-aged children, their only hot or nutritious meal was being provided while they were in school. With schools being shut down, they were not being afforded at least one nutritious meal a day. We wanted to make sure … these children were getting nutritious meals.”
Charron said HNS plans to use the donation to provide more produce, dairy and meat products to families in need, as these are the most expensive items supplied in the summer lunch program.
The HNS summer lunch program aims to provide families in need who have at least one child ages 18 or younger with enough groceries for one meal a day. Groceries are supplied on a weekly basis and include a menu with inspiration for meals that can be made with the groceries. Families with four or fewer people receive one set of groceries, while those of five or more receive two sets.
Those in the program can pick up groceries on Wednesdays from 3:30–6 p.m. at the Waterloo office, 1331 Jamie Lane, and on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Waterloo office and other pickup locations across Monroe County.
However, the summer lunch program provides more than just groceries. When a family wishes to join the program, HNS calls the family to discuss their needs, which often stems beyond just help obtaining groceries.
“It’s a full round circle to encompass everything,” Charron said. “They can come to us if they need help with rent, utilities, anything like that. We’ll have back to school supplies towards the end of the summer at the end of the summer lunch program, so they can choose from those as well. We do have birthdays in a bag … if they need that while they’re here picking up summer lunch, they can pick up a birthday in a bag and a couple of gifts for their kids, too.”
Charron said the summer lunch program would not be able to operate without community support. From Schneider’s Quality Meats loaning a trailer cooler to help keep meat cold to volunteers who pack the grocery bags, the community has come together to support families in need.
HNS also posts specific items of need on its Facebook page, and donors have never left HNS disappointed.
“It wouldn’t work without our volunteers and the community support,” Charron said. “The community is definitely super involved in either donating physical items or donating monetarily to this one. Anytime we put the need out there on Facebook, the community has pulled through for us.”
Since March 2020 when the pandemic started, the Waterloo Masonic Lodge has donated over $6,000 to local charities and families, and they have received over $9,400 from various Grand Lodge charities to further assist those in need. Layton said the Waterloo Masonic Lodge would not be able to donate as much money without the community rallying behind their fundraisers.
“We’re very fortunate that our lodge gets a lot of support from the communities when we do our fundraisers so that we can turn right back around and give every penny that we raise back out,” Layton said. “We do not keep any money for the lodge; if you give a Mason a dollar, we are going to give a dollar away.”
While the summer lunch program only serves families who have children ages 18 and younger, HNS provides options for others who need food assistance. At their office, they have an emergency pantry for anybody who needs one-time groceries. They also have a sharing cupboard at a few senior apartments in Monroe County.
If these options do not work, contact HNS for alternatives.
“If somebody needs groceries or food, we’re definitely going to make sure that we get it formed,” Charron said.
Additionally, anybody – whether it be a charity, family or individual in need – can request assistance through the Waterloo Masonic Lodge. A committee will then evaluate the request and determine if they will donate/how much, Layton said.
Contact HNS at 618-939-8900 or contact Waterloo Masonic Lodge #787 via their website for more details on how to get involved or receive assistance.