Above all else, the Freemasons are a service organization: Masons contribute over two million dollars a day to the philanthropies they support, and the long list of Masonic charities runs the gamut from medical support to historic preservation. One of the most heartwarming of all Masonic charities though is Georgia’s Secret Santa Project.
Georgia’s Secret Santa Project works the same way Secret Santa does in your office or your school – except that the price limit is not set at an arbitrary figure but is whatever the members of Lodge feel they can afford when the matter is put to their vote. Some years the money is raised by individual contributions, while others the Masons dedicate the proceeds of a fundraising event to their Secret Santa Project.
Members of the Secret Santa committee meet with the folks who know the families and children of their town the best. These folks may be pastors and other religious leaders, or teachers, school principals or even social workers. The members of the Secret Santa committee explain to this liaison that they want to give one family with a child or children who lives in their town a Christmas that the little ones will never forget – but that they need to operate in complete anonymity. It is up to the liaison to choose the family, determine what the children may need, determine what the children may <I>want</I>, and to find out necessary information like names and ages of the children, clothing sizes and such. It is up to the Freemasons to pay for the gifts and deliver them to the families on Christmas Eve.
The condition of anonymity is very important. Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, and members are comfortable both with offering help to other Masons in difficult circumstances and asking for assistance in turn when they need it. But many people in the culture in which we live don’t understand the reciprocal nature of philanthropy and frequently feel stigmatized by it. Georgia Freemasons conduct their Christmas giving in secret to spare their beneficiaries embarrassment.
The Secret Santa Committees generally begin shopping after Thanksgiving – even philanthropists like to take advantage of a sale! On Christmas Eve, the Committee and their families meet at the Lodge to wrap the gifts and partake in coffee, cake and general merriment. When darkness falls, members of the Committee drive to their chosen family’s home and very quietly go to the door. They determine that the family is home, assemble the boxes on the porch or street outside the family’s home, and knock on the door. Then they beat an exit – as quickly and quietly as possible.
True, Committee members never get to see the joy on the children’s faces as the children unwrap their gifts, but they’ve seen the joy on their own children’s faces as their sons and daughters help wrap the gifts, and know that that their offspring are well on their way to learning the most valuable of all life’s lessons: that it’s better to give than to receive.
Georgia’s Secret Santa Project has proven to be such a success that many Lodges throughout the Peach State have instigated Secret Bunny, Secret Turkey and Secret Birthday Projects. In Atlanta, Athens and other cities, Secret Santa has become something of a municipal institution so that local Lodges often find themselves partnering with social service agencies or health care facilities to provide gifts for children in foster care or for children forced to spend the holiday in the hospital.
Georgia’s Secret Santa Project is an example of Freemasonic philanthropy at its best, helping both gift giver and gift receiver appreciate the magic of the holiday season.