The pandemic has thrust every one of us into an entirely new world. Everywhere families and individuals have struggled with food security, housing, living expenses and often consequent mental-health issues. This wave of uncertainty has fully exposed the reality that sometimes people just need help. Among the many working to help us heal, one organization recognized this truth and decided to tackle it head-on literally centuries ago: the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
In England in 1730 a group of tradesmen deemed ‘odd,’ pursuing uncommon trades, made the decision to band together and form their own ‘union,’ as they hadn’t belonged to any one in particular. In place of internal or trade-related endeavors, though, they focused on benevolence and charity. Living by their commitment to “Visit the sick, relieve the distressed, educate the orphan and bury the indigent,” the original group also founded over 800 cemeteries. Americans in Baltimore, MD adopted this mission in 1819 in creating the new Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which has since grown to 12,000 chapters and about 600,000 members worldwide.
The Odd Fellows committed to progressive values very early on. In 1851, long before universal suffrage in this country, the IOOF became the first fraternal organization to welcome both men and women.
I had the opportunity to sit down with longtime member Sallie Richards and newer member Dan Riordan, who both expressed great enthusiasm and passion for the lodge and its good work.
Dan explained that Lodge #1 was on the point of devolving to Phoenix for lack of members and need for expansion. Members Marianne Erickson and Peter Eldridge approached him as part of a recruiting effort to keep the lodge alive in the Prescott area. As he learned more, he said, he couldn’t say no to such a fantastic and proactive cause.
From its low point of just three members, the local group has recovered to nearly a dozen, enabling Lodge #1 to remain and continue distributing its funds to where they are needed locally.
“We’re very much interested in recruiting people,” says Dan. “The three rings — everybody sees them on old signs — it means friendship, love, and truth. It’s to care for others, and that’s not just for members, that’s for anybody, you know, kids or family, and they do a good job.”
Dan is enthusiastic about the charity work they’ve done: “We’ve paid for dental work for people, we’ve paid for utilities, we went half on a battery for a girl whose car went down and she couldn’t get to work, … we’ve put kids through school at the nursing college, paid for rent and food in bad months. This is just some of what we’ve been doing.” Lodge #1 in Prescott Valley distributed monetary grants to a range of local economic-support organizations in 2020, including:
Coalition for Compassion and Justice (Operation Deep Freeze)
Prescott Free Clinic
Prescott Valley Little League
Yavapai College Foundation’s Opportunity Scholarship
El Gato Azul’s Gato Community Gives project
Yavapai County Food Bank
Prescott Meals on Wheels
Arizona Community Foundation
Old Town Mission in Cottonwood
Chino Valley Food Bank
Mountain View School
Yavapai Community Foundation Green Bags Food Program
Yavapai CASA for kids
The chapter contributed $12,500 to programs and scholarship funding equated to $2,000 just last year alone. The lodge also put together food boxes with essential items and masks to last up to two weeks for people entering quarantine.
So where does this group of benevolent individuals get its funding? Sallie explained that the group is entirely nonprofit and has a steady income from mortgage payments made to IOOF by the church that purchased its meeting hall in Prescott. “The good news about that is that we offer people a place to worship, but we also see all different beliefs. We consider ourselves to have a progressive mindset, and our mission is to do good.”
The members note that IOOF chapters are dedicated specifically to a few unique purposes, one of which resonated with me deeply: “To help make the world a better place to live by aiding each other, the community, the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and the community in every way possible.”
The local IOOF chapter is actively looking for members to join in efforts to show compassion for others and lend a helping hand in times of economic insecurity. There are no requirements for becoming a member, says Sallie, other than “people with a moral grounding who pride themselves in their desire to care for others.”
The lodge is at 8690 Loos Dr. in Prescott Valley and IOOFONEAZ on Facebook if you’d like to “Become a Part of Something Bigger than Yourself.”