Chances are you’ve seen him at a busy intersection in Gwinnett County, a dark red fez atop his head and a red bucket in his hand as he walks along a line of stopped cars.
And chances are you’ve reached into your car’s console and dug out some spare change, or reached into your wallet and pulled out a few bucks, then rolled down your window and tossed your legal tender into his red bucket.
And chances are you had no idea who that man wearing that dark red fez with the striking gold embroidered letters on it was, or where your hard-earned money was going.
Rest assured that the man who politely thanked you for your charity then immediately tried to find another rolled-down car window with a hand reaching out of it was part of a special fraternity of men dedicated to family, philanthropy, values, brotherhood and, most importantly, the health and well-being of children across the globe.
That man was a Shriner, and he wants you to know that your generosity means more – and does more good -- than you could ever imagine.
Right: A Shriner carrying a crippled girl. This photo is known as the “Editorial Without Words” is probably one of the best recognized symbols of Shriners Hospitals. The Shriner is Al Hortman (a Georgian who passed in 2009). In one hand he is carrrying Bobbi Jo Wright, and in the other he carries her crutches. Bobbie Jo had cerebral palsy and was being treated at St Louis Shriners Hospital. Today, the famous photo is an integral part of the Shriners Hospitals logo, and has been reproduced on stained-glass windows, mosaics, tie tacs, pins, and in statues.
Even if chances are that he’ll probably struggle to put into words the reason why he volunteers his time and energy to stand at that intersection, often in sweltering temperatures, with a dark red fez on his head and a red bucket in his hand.
“Hmmm …. I don’t really have an answer for that,” said Snellville’s Kevin Weinz, a Shriner and member of the Yaarab Temple in Atlanta who is one of the organization’s most prolific “bucketers.”
After a long pause, Weinz adds, “It’s just something that I feel compelled to do. I don’t really have a clear answer for you.”
Left: Kevin after a day of standing on a corner collecting donations.
Founded in 1872, Shriners International is a fraternity of men from all walks of life, all of whom are Freemasons -- the oldest, largest and most widely known fraternity in the world -- who are dedicated to brotherhood, compassion, truth and charitable service to others. There are nearly 200 Shriner temples located in several countries around the world.
The Yaarab Temple in Atlanta, which is located on Ponce de Leon Avenue between Piedmont Avenue NE and Monroe Drive NE, is one of four in Georgia, and it serves as the home temple for Shriners from just north of Macon to the north, east and west state lines.
Kevin (left) with one of the small cars Shriners ride in and stand out in parades.
Like all Shriner temples, the core mission of the Yaarab Temple is to do whatever possible to help support the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children, international leaders in providing treatment for children stricken with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate. The Shriners also provide free transportation for patients and their families, be it via van or private jet.
Any child who needs care receives it, regardless of a family’s ability to pay for the unparalleled expert medical treatment and care provided by each Shriners Hospitals for Children, which can be found in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Now you know where virtually every penny that people toss into those red buckets goes.
“We want people to know the philanthropy work that we do, and that it costs a lot of money,” said Weinz, a 56-year-old fourth-generation Freemason – his great-grandfather was one of the original Freemasons in Massachusetts – who became a Shriner 13 months ago. “Not a lot of people will do what we do, give up our time, to give to charity. But it’s the core tenant of what we do.
“We do it all out of compassion. It comes from the heart.”
But like many institutions these days, Weinz laments that times are tough for the Shriners. Membership, which once numbered more than 14,000, is down to about 3,500.
Above: Kevin Weinz driving one of the little bikes in the the Tampa Parade that Shriners are known to ride in parades. Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 non-profit medical facilities across North America headquarterd in Tampa, Fl. Children with orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, regardless of the patients' ability to pay.
“We created our television and social media presence with our Patient Ambassadors to address public awareness of our efforts, Weinz said. “The result is our fundraising efforts have increased dramatically with fewer numbers.
“We are so grateful to the city of Lawrenceville for having the insight to continue to let us earn money for our cause.”
It goes without saying that Weinz and his fellow Shriners hope this story inspires someone to join their cause, be it by becoming a member or just by volunteering at one of the organizations many fund-raising events.
Visit www.shrinersinternational.org to learn more about the Shriners, including how to become one, or contact a Shriners temple near you.
“The best part of what we do is when former patients come up to us,” Weinz said. “I had a 5-year-old girl who was in the car with her mother – the little girl was missing her right arm – and her mother had her hand me a $5 bill with her good arm. She smiled and explained that she was a patient at one of our hospitals.
“That’s all I needed right there.”