They aren’t just a group of guys wearing red-tasseled hats, riding in tiny cars and swinging fake swords around.
Ahead of the Shriners Variety Show, scheduled for Dec. 10 at Cleland Community Theatre, Jud Thompson and Ron Champken of the Penticton Shriners wanted to spread the word about the philanthropic organization.
“Everything we do is for the kids, our Shrine Kids, that’s what we call them. All the money we raise goes to fund 22 Shriners’ hospitals. Most of those are in the U.S. The closest is in Spokane but there is one in Montreal. That’s the only one in Canada,” Champken said. “A lot of people don’t realize that’s what we’re about.”
There are more than 350,000 Shriners throughout the world, with most located in North America. To become a Shriner one must first become a Master Mason in the Masonic Lodge. Once that is achieved, one can decide to become a Shriner
“You have to be a Mason to be a Shriner but you don’t have to become a Shriner. Most of us really want to help children. We meet and go to meetings but we’re really interested in helping children,” Champken said.
Shriners Hospitals for Children is a world-renowned network of pediatric medical facilities in many major cities in the U.S., one in Canada and one in Mexico. Not only do Shriners all over North America raise the funds to build and update those hospitals, they also pay the operating costs as well.
They do that by hosting things like the upcoming Variety Show.
Locally, there are at least seven children in the South Okanagan that are in the Shriners’ medical system. A child must meet certain medical criteria to become a patient. Ailments treated at Shriners hospitals include scoliosis, dislocated hips, club feet, head injuries, sports injuries to bones, muscles and tendons, brittle bone disease, cleft lip or palate, burn scars and a variety of neuromuscular diseases.
In recent days, Thompson was notified of one more child that will receive care from the area. Although he couldn’t speak specific to the ailment facing the child, he did say it was considered fatal and that wait times in B.C. were so long that possibly the child would have died before being seen.
“That isn’t to say anything bad about other places, but we are able to fill in the gaps. Our hospitals specifically treat children for certain things. It’s really focused and we’re able to be there when maybe others can’t and they know that,” Thompson said.
The Penticton Shriners are part of the Gizeh Shriners of B.C. and the Yukon with the headquarters located in Burnaby. All the Shriners work to raise funds in their individual temples and a pool of money is set aside for the community program, which is used to buy specialized equipment. Most recently the Penticton Shriners presented a family with $12,000 to buy a new electric wheelchair for a child.
“We also help pay for transportation costs, hotel rooms, any costs associated with the family travelling to the hospital through Shriners Care for Kids’ Transportation Program,” Thompson said. “We don’t just leave the families stranded. We want to lessen the burden and make things easier for them.”
Currently there are about 47 members in the Penticton Shriners, who come from surrounding Masonic Lodges. Both men acknowledge for years the Shriners and Masons seemed like secretive societies but they hope to change that.
“They think we are a secretive society but we aren’t really what it is is that we have a secret way of knowing each other when we’re out. There’s a secret handshake. We need to do a better job of getting the word out about what we do,” he said. ” A lot of people don’t know what we do.”
Although they are not allowed to “recruit” both men encouraged anyone interested in becoming a Mason and Shriner to contact the lodge in their community.
“Like every other group out there we are looking for members. You don’t have to be related to a Mason, but you do have to be a man. There’s an investigative committee that looks into anyone that wants to become a Mason. But we’re open to people joining and want them to join to continue this work,” Thompson said.
Throughout the year Shriners members put on events including the upcoming Variety Show as well as a car show and shine in Okanagan Falls. They also participate in seven parades in communities throughout the Okanagan. And this year they sold CDs and music apps at the Foreigner concert that came to Penticton recently.
Anyone wanting tickets to the Variety Show on Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Cleland Theatre can buy them by calling 1-855-677-4562 or buy them at the door for $20. Donations are also being accepted so children can attend even if their family can’t afford tickets.