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Members drive impact in a close-knit district

Bellarine and Otway District (District 110) is made up of 10 lodges, and their proximity to one another, geographically speaking and fraternally, bolsters their charitable endeavours.

David Webb, member of Geelong Lodge of Unity & Prudence, Deputy District Coordinator for Bellarine and Otway, represents the DC Bill Sheahan when needed and drives charity events.

“We’re one of the smallest districts in Victoria and so we're quite close to each other - a lot of other districts are quite spread out. Visiting each other and being involved collaboratively, it's easy for us.”

The members put forward a charitable case and decide what to support – its always local, and often relevant to one or more lodge members.

A decade of support for suicide prevention and grief in the community

In the past decade Freemasons in the district have been big supporters of the local organisation Hope Bereavement Care, who provide services in the Geelong and surrounding districts for those affected by grief.

A decade ago, John Patterson and Don Robinson initiated the partnership, and they had a big focus on preventing suicide in the community.

The statistics are frightening, with 9 suicides a day in Australia. At the beginning, the donations were to get Hope Bereavement Care up and running when they were totally self-funded. David said they aimed to raise $1,000 in 2017 but ended up raising $20,000. With the assistance of the Freemasons Foundation Victoria (FFV), over the last 10 years, they’ve raised nearly $400,000 towards suicide prevention and grief support in the district.

Nourishing families with food relief

In the past two years Geelong Food Relief (GFR) has been the biggest recipient of the Districts’ charity.

“In 2022, one of our members volunteered at Geelong Food Relief and pointed out to us that they really need a lot of money. There was a shortfall out there - 440 families were in need of assistance just within our District. “

David said there’s much more to the organisation than just providing groceries. “They also provide training on how people can better use up their food supplies to get the most out of it.

“It really didn't occur to us that people didn't know how to cook and that's why they go and get takeout and spend ridiculous amounts of money. So that's a really important part of what the money we give to them supports - not just food but also manpower.”

Geelong Food Relief has seen exponential growth in the need for its services. They handle 100 tonnes on food per month helping to feed the 3500 people requiring their assistance, with 4 full time staff and an incredible 160 volunteers working an incredible 650 hours a week.

In 2022, the District started an informal food drive four weeks out from Christmas, and amassed nearly $10,000 in donations and about 100 kilos of food. That year the District, with support from FFV, made a $10,000 donation which purchased a new fridge dedicated solely to eggs, of which GFR gives away dozens every week.

In 2023, they rallied together with a higher level of organisation, and donated 220kgs of food - David’s entire tray ute full, or food for approximately 440 people at Christmas time. A Masonic Grant matched fundraising efforts, enabling them to donate $28,000 that year – improving 40% on the previous year.

The knock-on effects are evident. The Lodges’ support of Geelong Food Relief is no longer solely a Christmas time effort but a year-round one, and some local Freemasons have dedicated even more of their time to help as volunteers. 

“We're already planning this year, and we want to raise $20K. FFV has been fantastic in supporting us in moving forward.”

Empowering health and dignity through enhanced cancer care

The lodges also donate to various health services in the community, to enhance the level and quality of care available to them and their families.

A recent donation supported the purchase of Paxman Caps. Very few of the members had any idea what a Paxman Cap was until it was brought up by one of the members. His wife was undergoing treatment for cancer and a main concern of hers was her hair. Loss of hair in women having cancer treatment is often very detrimental to their self-confidence and sense of dignity.

Paxman Caps increase the likelihood of holding on to their own hair through a scalp cooling system, and there were only two available in the area for everyone that needed treatment. This member’s wife got access to one and she actually retained her hair through use of the Paxman Cap.

Local Freemasons did a fundraising drive, and with support from FFV, bought a Paxman Cap for St John of God Geelong Hospital and one for Epworth Hospital Geelong, doubling the amount of people to have access to this treatment.


Always look local – Geelong Freemasons’ strategy to drive change

David is a key figure in securing FFV grants. He says they have an advantage because the Geelong District executive has representation in every Lodge, so they can get their messages across to their membership with relative ease.

“We’ll say, look, this is what our district is running at the moment, we'd love for you to support it - and we're really proud that our district members always jump behind anything that we raise, and they'll put in their best efforts to try and support us in our aims. Our membership in Geelong is what really drives us to push forward.”

For the past nine years the District Lodges have organised an annual fundraiser ‘Support After Suicide’ with a sports luncheon format, and while it’s served their purposes well, it’s currently on hiatus while they reassess the direction and inject some fresh ideas into the event and its focus. Aside from the Support After Suicide luncheon, there’s raffles and Bunnings Sausage Sizzles – “obviously one of our biggest money spinners”.

David encourages other Lodges to seek additional support from FFV to help them make a difference in their communities.

“It's a super easy process, as long as you've got your background information, and I would suspect that anybody applying for a grant has already worked out what they need to say, in support of their application.
“The size of our district makes it really easy for us, because the money goes directly into the Geelong community. It doesn't go into big organisations - everything we look at is localised, and that’s my advice to other Lodges. Always look local. You’ve got a good chance of getting the support you need if there’s local impact.” 


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