Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The successful 21st Century Lodge will be a Lodge that opens its doors and windows to its surrounding community. The time has long passed that Odd Fellowship can engage in the luxury of shutting ourselves off from the outside world. I predict that literally half the Lodges in our Order will no longer exist over the next 25 years unless we change the way we operate. Those Lodges will diminish in membership, lose quorums, and will be forced to surrender their charters or consolidate. They will become footnotes in books about Odd Fellowship. If you are in a Lodge that does little more than have formal meetings once or twice a month, with the occasional potluck dinner, then make sure you take a lot of photographs of your Lodge – because that is just about all that will remain for the next generation.
On the other hand, Lodges that reach out into their communities to do good works will find that they not only make a positive impact on their communities, but the good works themselves are satisfying to members, and those good works will increase the visibility, viability and attraction of the Lodge to potential new members. After all, one of the reasons that IOOF was founded to begin with was to help others. In Old England we were called “Odd Fellows” in large part because we engaged in work for the less fortunate in our society. Somehow, some of our Lodges have lost that original focus.
In my home Lodge of Davis, for example, we have not “recruited” new applicants for years. Instead, potential new members hear about us, read about us, or attend events that we host. They become interested in who we are and what we do, they ask questions about us, and they apply to join. I imagine this is the way Odd Fellowship was a Century ago – when Odd Fellows Lodges were (literally and figuratively) the center of town and anyone who was anybody in that town wanted to be part of the action.
So what are the ways that Lodges can be involved in their communities?
Frankly, there are dozens and dozens of possibilities – perhaps hundreds. It’s really up the imagination, initiative, energy, drive and ultimately, interest of the members of the Lodge. Even a small Lodge with as few as a dozen active members can do it. Just fit the community project to the quantity and energy level of the members (and family members and friends can certainly help in community projects). Parenthetically, applicants for membership – while awaiting initiation – can also help. And when we talk about community involvement, we are talking about more than just writing a check to a worthy cause. Writing a check is great, but it’s too easy. When we talk about community projects, we are talking about hands-on volunteer efforts. To give you an idea of the sorts of community projects that are possible, here’s a list of 10 community projects my own Lodge has undertaken over the years. I hasten to add that these are just examples of projects, to get your brain juices flowing. Your Lodge can develop your own projects that fit your Lodge and your community.
Adopt-a-Highway. Virtually any Lodge can “adopt” a segment of a California highway. There are “Adopt-a-Highway” signs everywhere in California for parts of roadways that no one has yet claimed. If your Lodge is interested, merely call the phone number listed on the blank “Adopt-a-Highway” sign and you will be connected to your local CalTrans representative. It’s actually quite easy to do. My Lodge recently adopted a 2-mile segment (northbound only) of a highway just outside of our town. We have over 20 enthusiastic members who are ready to do the environmental clean-up, which is only required once each month. As icing on that cake, a sign will go up on the highway listing our Lodge name and displaying our three links logo in full color. Can you imagine what 100 Lodges could do, with 100 highway signs throughout California?
Classic Film Festival. All you need is a projector and a screen. My Lodge has now done this four times, and are planning to do it again twice each year. We show classic films from the Golden Era of Hollywood to the public. There is no charge, but donations are accepted. Those donations have covered all our costs, and more. We show a classic film on three successive Sunday evenings. Each showing is preceded by our local newspaper’s movie reviewer who gives the audience the back-story behind each film. Our last three showings attracted over 200 viewers from the community.
Social Services Committee. A committee of our Lodge connects with local organizations to do good works in the community, primarily through volunteers. For example, volunteers help out once a month at the local Food Bank. Volunteers also work, one-on-one with folks who have mental illness; just having a person to talk to is invaluable for these folks. This is a no-cost effort that provides true benefits to the most needy in our communities.
Bingo. With the approval of our local city council, our Lodge has operated a real Bingo game – with cash prizes – once each month for the past eight years. The Lodge is opened to the public for Bingo, completely operated by Odd Fellows. And every month, the Bingo Committee designates a beneficiary for all the proceeds from Bingo. Over the years, the Bingo Committee has donated over $50,000 to a variety of community and charitable organizations including Hospice, the Elderly Nutrition Program, organizations service persons with mental illness and developmental disabilities, local school programs, and a local Shakespeare group. Typically, an average of 75 folks attend our Bingo games each month, including both a loyal following and new players every month.
Music Committee. In our community we have a very active music scene, with lots of musicians and many bands. And our Lodge has a very active Music Committee. Once each month, the Music Committee hosts “First Thursday Live” at the Lodge featuring an eclectic presentation of music to the community. It’s always free of charge, although donations are accepted. Not only is the public well served by these shows, but local musicians are encouraged and highlighted. Once each year, our Music Committee presents a show where all the donations are given to our Davis Encampment to help send children to summer camp, our Encampments project.
Community Support Committee. The myriad local groups that request funding are all funneled to the Lodge’s Community Support Committee, which has a yearly budget, and which evaluates all the requests as they come in. The committee, on behalf of the Lodge, has supported numerous local groups including the Crisis Nursery, the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center, the Yolo Mexican-American Concilio, the local girl’s high school water polo team, and many others.
Breakfast with Santa. For years now we have provided a “Breakfast with Santa” for the children of our community. One of our members is a dead-ringer for Santa, we supply a photographer, and a nice breakfast and every year we feed 360 people (children and adults) in three breakfast seatings. Every child gets to spend some time with Santa, gets a photo, and receives a little gift bag compliments of the Lodge.
Breakfast with the Bunny. And because Breakfast with Santa proved so popular, we reprise it every year with “Breakfast with the Bunny” – providing a nice breakfast to children in town. We put on an arts and crafts “Eggstravaganza”, there is an egg hunt, and there is a carnival for the kids. And of course, there is “the Bunny” – one of the teenage sons of a member who puts on the bunny costume.
Disaster Response. When earthquake disasters struck Haiti and then recently, Nepal, our Lodge worked with local merchants and members of those communities, as well as local musicians, to host fundraisers at the Lodge. The “Hope for Haiti” event raised about $25,000 and the “Neighbors for Nepal” event raised $17,000 – all used in those nations. In Nepal, for example, the money was used to rebuild the Bhopal village school devastated during the earthquake.
Taste of Davis. Once a year we work with local restaurants, wineries and breweries, and transform our Lodge into “A Taste of Davis”. This has become an extremely popular local event, attracting hundreds to the Lodge to sample the food and beverages. Not only is it a popular social scene, it exposes our Lodge to the community in the most positive light.
Through these sorts of events, our members have been able to reach out and do good works on behalf of others. This also is very satisfying and gratifying for the members. And as an extra added attraction, because of this exposure, we have had many local folks inquire about our Lodge and about Odd Fellows, and we have received numerous applications for membership over the years. Again, the ideas above are only examples of the kinds of things that can be done. The event or events your Lodge chooses is completely up to the membership.
And the choice is yours. Sit back behind the four walls of your Lodge and watch your Lodge slowly diminish. Or get involved and get active in your community and watch your Lodge thrive.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California