Mark C. Phillips, 2nd Ceremonial Master
It’s one thing for us to talk about the Shriners Hospitals for Children as the world’s greatest philanthropy; it is something else entirely to do something about it. That is why we have the annual Food Caravan, a shared project between Al Kader, Hillah, and El Korah Shrine Centers.
The 63rd Annual Food Caravan culminated this year on October 21, 2017 but no one should be misled into thinking that the Food Caravan is a one-day event. It always begins months earlier when Nobles from all three Shrine Centers reach out to local farmers, merchants, and just plain ordinary folks to drum up support for the Portland Hospital.
Harney County Shrine Club, for example, arranged for tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of livestock to be donated from the auction at their County Fair. Desert Shrine Club, as another example, solicited excess produce which local growers could not sell – so much, in fact, that they were delivered to us on a Walmart truck. There are many, many examples like these – all of which demonstrate that the Food Caravan is a labor of love which takes months of collective dedicated effort.
Other efforts might seem less noteworthy, but all are extremely exceptional. In comparison to some other units and clubs, the Willamette Valley Legion of Honor presented a small amount of food and cash donations this year, but there was not a dry eye in the house when their commander made his heartfelt presentation. Alongside the many dozens of cases of food from Eastern Oregon were two plain cardboard cases containing more than 400 hand-carved wooden toys for the young Hospital patients. These are touching reminders that it’s always all about the kids.
There is no single Food Caravan, but actually three separate caravans which operate on the same day. One comes from the south under the auspices of our brother Nobles at Hillah. Another comes from Central Oregon and often must deal – like this year – with fresh snow over the Santiam Pass. The third originates with El Korah in Idaho, links up along the way with clubs and units in Eastern Oregon, and then they drive together through the Columbia Gorge. All three caravans arrive at Al Kader in Wilsonville, where Masonic youth work quickly to unload items onto pallets, shrink wrap them in plastic, and re-load them onto trucks which will whisk them away to the food warehouse in Gresham.
When all the tallies were completed, the 2017 Food Caravan achieved $360,459 in food and cash donations for the Hospital, plus an additional $10,289 in cash donations for the Transportation Fund. At the celebrator banquet held on October 21st where the various presentations were made, Hospital Administrator Craig Patchin, FACHE used the word “largess” several times in his remarks and commented that he believes this Food Caravan may indeed be the last one still operating in North America. He also commented that this year’s donations may help to cover up to 75% of the Hospital’s annual food needs.
And, yes, the Food Caravan is fun. From the venerable Wagonmaster to the youngest DeMolay, there were plenty of smiles and laughs as the day unfolded. We now look forward to being even more productive next year.