THE WORK OF THE DISTRICT BOARD OF BENEVOLENCE OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS

by W Bro Steve Shelton, PresDistBofB

Right Worshipful District Grand Master, W. Brethren, Brethren. On the 28th January 1954 Right Worshipful Bro. P. I. Abraham, District Grand Master of English Freemasonry in Jamaica informed the Half Yearly Communication of District Grand Lodge that an amendment to Rule 68 of the Book of Constitutions empowered District Grand Masters to establish a Board of Benevolence.

Soon after, the District Board of Benevolence was established in Jamaica to control and administer the Benevolent Fund on behalf of District Grand Lodge. This Benevolent Fund was principally established to provide benevolence and relief to ailing, indigent Brethren and their connections and to contribute to the charities selected from time to time by District Grand Lodge.

The Fund which was established by District Grand Lodge derived its income over the years from a variety of sources:­

Whilst the list of sources might appear to be long, the capital of the Fund is only built up from the proceeds from the Annual Festival; 10% of dues paid to the District and from donations from Lodges. All other contributions go to the income which is available for grants in any given year. That having been said, the main source of our income for disbursements is interest on the invested capital sum, which is carefully managed by the District Grand Treasurer on behalf of the Board. Other income is also received from a portion of the Honour Fees, an ever reducing amount from voluntary contributions of individual members, one off contributions from the sale of books and from fundraising events. The income earned from these sources is used to augment the income from investments which increases the amount available for disbursements in certain years.

I will now give you a brief report on how the District Board of Benevolence has performed over the last five or so years.

For this report to be meaningful you have to understand the environment m which we operate and our present major challenge and plight. The capital of the Benevolent Fund as at the 31st March, 2014 amounted to approximately J$44,000,000 and with the constant reduction in interest rates over the last two years we have been unable to adequately fund the applications for grants especially in 2013 and 2014 from the income earned from the investments of the capital fund.

The calls for assistance from the Fund are ever increasing and cover a range of needs for disbursements which for ease of reference we categorize as Medical Expenses, including Cancer Care, Dialysis and Heart Disease Treatment, Living Expenses, Funeral Expenses, Education Grants, Nursing Care, Local Disaster Relief, Relief from Distress, Hurricane Relief, Regional Disaster Relief, Nursing Home Expenses, Miscellaneous Care ego Giving of General Assistance and Support.

Over the last five years, the income for disbursements have ranged between $2,000,000 in year ending March 2010 to approximately $2,400,000 in year ending March 2014 and we optimistically estimate the income for disbursements for the year ending March 2015 to be about $2,600,000 but expect that the minimum disbursements we will make based on the levels of demand, to be in the region of $3,000,000 or a little more. What I will tell you straight off, is that applications in each of those years amounted to almost double the income earned. What this means is that the District Board of Benevolence is satisfying less than 50% of the money value of the applications which are made to it annually and the only reason why this percentage of the support is not much less, is that Brethren seek the assistance of the Central Masonic Charities of the United Grand Lodge of England in the more severe cases.

I am going to attempt to give you a graphic illustration of what has taken place with the Fund over the last five (5) or so years and the level of the known assistance which we have received from the Central Masonic Charities over the same period.

In 2009, we disbursed $1,528,760 for medical expenses, $100, 000 for funeral expenses, $450,000 for educational grants, $186,000 for the National Children's home and $100,000.00 for nursing care making a total of $2,364,000 against applications which more than doubled this sum. The total income for that year totalled a little over $2,200,000.

In 2010, we disbursed $600,000 for medical expenses, $400,000 for funeral expenses, $854,000 for educational grants $105,011 for National Children's Home and $150,000 for relief from distress making a total expenditure of $2,109,000. We do not have the actual amount of the applications for this year but based on our maximum disbursement policy, we know that these disbursements were well below 50% of the value of the applications. The income for 2010 was about $2,100,000.

During the same period, in 2010 and part of 2011, the total amount disbursed by the Central Masonic Charities of the United Grand Lodge of England to Jamaican Masons amounted to £73,024 sterling the equivalent of approximately J$11,000,000. These disbursements were made up of £67,524 from the Masonic Samaritan Fund for medical care (heart surgery, cancer treatment, dialysis, cancer surgery and others); and £5,500 from the Grand Charity for living expenses.

Over this period the District Grand Lodge of Jamaica made a contribution to the Grand Charity of £1,000 and £700 to the Masonic Samaritan Fund; which amounted to about J$255,000 in total.

In 2011, the D.B.B. disbursed $944,115 for medical expenses, $550,000 for funeral expenses, $275,863 for living expenses, $125,000 for education grants and $102,573 for the National Children's Home for a total of just about $2,000,000 which was just within our income.

To achieve this apparent breakeven position however we were only able to assist with about 40% in value of the applications made to us that year. We try very hard to honour even a small portion of most applications, in that, applications are processed by a Brother's Lodge and so when applications come to us we accept the genuineness of the application in most cases. We do conduct our own assessment nonetheless and have had to reject a few applications from time to time. What we are saddened about is our inability in many cases of dire need and distress to make more meaningful grants in some of these very deserving cases. The policy of the Board is that we will not impair the capital of the Fund, even though we do have to make advances from the capital on very rare occasions which are reimbursed at the beginning of the following year, or we try to get voluntary contributions from Lodges and Brethren to make up the deficit and repair any impairment before the new financial year. So far despite the numerous challenges that we face the District Board of Benevolence due to prudent and careful management of our resources has been able to keep the capital of the Fund in tact and has even been able to continue its growth, small as it may be.

In 2012, we disbursed just over $2,050,715; made up of Medical expenses amounting to $312,459, Funeral expenses -$930,000, living expenses -280,000, Education grants -$300,000 and National Children's Home -$228,256, which in total was approximately the amount of our income. The trend continued, these disbursements satisfied about 50% of the quantum applied for. In addition The Grand Charity in 2012 contributed £12,250 or just about J$2,000,000. We do not have the actual information for the Masonic Samaritan Fund for this year as in most cases the payments are made directly to the health providers and the applications do not come through the Board or the District Grand Secretary. Applications are made by Brethren directly to the Masonic Samaritan Fund.

In 2013, we disbursed $2,582,343, as follows: Medical expenses $750,980, Funeral expenses $470,000. Living expenses $514,034, education grants $350,000 and National Children's Home $327,075 and $169,000 which was collected and disbursed for the Philippines' disaster. Our investment income in 2013 amounted to $2,587,939.

We were able to increase the capital fund by about $3,000,000 in that year. The applications in quantum amounted to about 40% more than we disbursed but we made a conscious effort to increase the capital fund as this is ultimately the only way we will ever be able to meet the demand.

We were again well served by the Central Masonic Charities. We again do not have details of the grants made by the Masonic Samaritan Fund for this period for the reasons already stated. We do know however that for the period 2012 and 2013 the Grand Charity disbursed £29,350 for living expenses alone (£12,250 in 2012 and £17,100 in 2013) which is the equivalent of approximately J$5,500,000. We are also aware that significant sums were paid by the Masonic Samaritan Fund for major health care during this period amounting to about £80,000.

In 2014, so far we estimate that our income will be about $2,600,000 and in November 2014 we had nearly fully disbursed this sum. This led the D.G.M. and the D.B.B. to take the bold decision to fund raise among Masons and companies with a significant complement of Masons. Hence our very successful Grand December Ball, the proceeds of which will augment our Benevolent and Charity Funds for 2014 and 2015. This R. W. D.G.M. and Brethren is the state of our Benevolent Fund and the challenges faced by the District Board of Benevolence.

The needs are great, the demands are many, the applications are deserving but the resources are meagre. Over the last two years, the R.W.D.G.M. has at installations been encouraging Lodges to support the District Board of Benevolence in growing the Benevolent Fund in order to cope with the increasing demand being placed on the Fund in recent times. Members of the Board as part of an information campaign, have also been visiting English Lodges throughout Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, outlining the needs of the Fund and encouraging the Brethren to actively demonstrate one of our greatest Masonic virtues, Benevolence and Charity. We have visited some Lodges so far and intend to continue this campaign over the next two years.

So far, for this year the Grand Charity has already contributed approximately £10,000 for living expenses and as far as I am aware the Masonic Samaritan Fund has already contributed over £45,000 for health care. As our demand on their resources have increased they have become more rigorous in the assessment of our applications and more strict in the imposition of the guidelines and policies for granting assistance. Their clear policy statement is that "Grants from the Grand Charity should not be regarded as income" and they will not assist any Brother who has an income surplus. As a consequence they have denied assistance unless the application meets their stated guidelines and policies. The same guidelines and policies are being applied by our District Board of Benevolence.

I hope I have been able in the given time to illustrate to you the urgent need to support your D.B.B. We cannot continue to look to the Central Masonic Charities for the level of support we have been requesting and have been getting from them. The District has increased its contribution to these charities but it is a mere drop in the bucket. We therefore have to start to take responsibility for our own Brethren and their families who are genuinely in need. The process has started, we are seeing an increase in the consciousness of the Brethren, the contributions from Lodges and Brethren are increasing. We say thank you for this but must look to you for significantly more if we are going to be an effective, and caring Board which really makes a difference.

Thank you Brethren for your attention.