In early 2019 Rochdale District Freemasons embarked on a very challenging and ingenious initiative to collect a mile of food for the local foodbank. That was certainly a stretching target to say the least and to put it into perspective there are 14,627 standard tins in a mile. The slogan “Miles More Food from the Freemasons” was adopted as the catch phrase or branding for the initiative.
This novel approach to fundraising was the brainchild of the District Charity Steward John Taylor who wanted to capture the imagination of his colleagues, whilst providing much needed support of those in need across the community.
John recalls how in the early weeks of the initiative he realised just how challenging the target would be to achieve and he wondered on occasions if he had bitten off more than he could chew! Each week donations were collected, carefully measured and delivered to the foodbank. Progress was slow and the one-mile target seemed an awful long way off.
However, all that changed when the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation and paralysed normality as we knew it.
Lodge meetings were postponed indefinitely as zoom meetings and other virtual communication methods became the order of the day.
As we know, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns affected the lives of everyone in all manner of ways with the number of people experiencing food poverty growing extraordinarily. All communities were affected and demand upon foodbanks was unprecedented.
It is at difficult times such as those when public-spirited groups and individuals are spurred into action with a heartfelt desire to help others in their hour of greatest need.
Rochdale District Freemasons were determined to step up to the plate (if you will excuse the pun!!) and help to feed those needing essential items – something most people take for granted.
With physical meetings cancelled, brethren were encouraged to donate the money they would have expected to spend on a meal to the foodbank in support of the initiate. An account was set up and the response across the district was phenomenal with hundreds of pounds being donated each week. This enabled John and his wife Sue to liaise with the foodbank directly, establish exactly what items were in short supply and make twice weekly trips to the supermarket to help plug the gap. Two trolleys piled high with essential items such as milk, fish, meat and tinned fruit became the norm and those trips became the new normal for quite some time. By speaking with supermarkets in advance extra supplies were ordered in advance so regular shoppers were not left without any essential items. The system was simple but effective and it was able to get the grease to the squeak with immediate benefits.
In turn the central foodbank supported satellite outlets and the local soup kitchen so the net of support was cast further afield and minimised the risk of those most vulnerable being missed out.
In addition to monetary donations, Freemasons supplemented their fund raising by donating van loads of food and Easter eggs and even two gallons of spirits that were raffled off in aid of the initiative.
The coffers were further swelled through matched funding donations from both the East Lancashire Masonic Charity and the national Masonic Charitable Foundation. When those contributions were taken into account the overall amount of food donated stretched to an incredible five miles. To put that into context that was more than 73,000 tins stood on top of each other.
In drawing a line under this initiative, (certainly for the time being) and reflecting on the last five years John said;
“Rochdale District Freemasons have been unbelievably generous with their donations and it’s heartwarming to know we have collectively played our part in helping those in need. We are all proud to have made a positive impact for the people of our borough”
Rochdale District Chairman Douglas Smith added;
“With foodbanks across the UK and Rochdale being used more than ever, especially during the pandemic we were glad to have provided for families across Rochdale at a time of an acute global crisis.
Rochdale District Freemasons will always focus upon our core values of Friendship, Integrity, Charity and Respect and we are proud to have helped so many in their time of need.”
Both John and Doug are very keen to point out how Freemasons remain committed to helping those in need, perhaps more so than ever as we navigate the current cost-of-living crisis. Rochdale District Freemasons are totally committed to their charitable roots including support for foodbanks and the soup kitchen alike where many fantastic volunteers give up their time and provide relief to those experiencing food poverty.
The tape measures may have been put away and the slogan may change but dedication to fundraising for good causes remains at the heart of what Freemasons do as a charitable organisation. A desire to help others reflects the core values of its members who continually strive to support those most vulnerable across communities.