Jimmie LeFresne’s and Alan Hayman’s eyes light up with the joy of Christmas when they talk about the efforts of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) to bring Christmas cheer to needy families.
This Yuletide season, for the seventh year in a row, the Odd Fellows will be delivering groceries and gifts to more than 40 families who are struggling financially.
For LeFresne, who is the Junior Past Grand Master of Atlantic Canada, the Christmas Index, as the program is known, is a labour of love.
“I’m not sure why it’s called the Index, it’s a traditional name,” he said. “But we are dedicated to benevolence and charity and this season is a perfect time to demonstrate these values.”
Hayman, the Senior Past Grand Master of Atlantic Canada, agrees.
“It’s the benevolence and charity that gives us our purpose,” he said, stressing the index is for local people in Colchester County, as far as Earltown. “The key is that we serve the grassroots.”
It’s important work they do but the Odd Fellows have a good time doing it. The men get together and have fun sorting the food and wrapping the gifts.
“Some are wrapped pretty crudely and some of the guys have improved their wrapping skills but a few have not,” said LeFrensne, with a smile.
“It’s a fun lodge. We pick on each other in a good natured way and kid around a lot but we also work pretty steadily on the index come December,” Hayman added with a chuckle.
The index is private and highly confidential. Families apply through the Cobequid Children First Foundation. Application forms are available at the Tatamagouche library but the Odd Fellows sometimes put people on the index even if they haven’t applied. LeFrensne said, “We know families that should apply but don’t because they suffer from health issues or have trouble filling out forms or are just too proud to ask for help.”
Background research is done on the applicants to find out what they really need. Sometimes they need stove wood, gas for transportation to get groceries or prescription medicine or even heating oil.
“We manage the heating oil program in conjunction with Langille Fuels, who are very generous,” said LeFrensne.
The whole community pitches in to help with the index. The legion, schools, Willow Lodge, churches, and the post office workers, among many others, all put their shoulders to the wheel.
Although the sorting, wrapping and delivery of the gifts is done almost entirely by the men, under the coordination of Kennie Snook, chairman of the Christmas Index Committee. The Rebekahs, the women’s arm of the Odd Fellows, lend a hand too. They call each family to ask about clothing sizes, food allergies and what the kids would like for Christmas.
“A few people would automatically assume that some people are abusing the system or taking what they don’t need,” said LeFrensne. He explained this is not the case and families on the index have sometimes told the Odd Fellows to give the groceries and gifts to those who need it more. The Odd Fellows often get thank you notes that are, at times, very moving.
The Tatamagouche Odd Fellows have been doing good works for those in need since 1912. They are part of a long tradition stretching back to England in the 1700s when they were known as “those odd fellows” who left food on the doorsteps of the hungry. Things have certainly changed since then but the spirit of giving lives on.