|The Shrine Circus, held in March, raises money to help fund the office for Shriners International in West Seneca. The West Seneca office heads up care for over 3,000 local children.|
In March of this year, the Shriners International branch in West Seneca opened up the doors of the Hamburg Fairground’s Event Center for the annual Shrine Circus. The circus is a classic three-ring event geared toward raising money for the offices in West Seneca.
The Shriners International is an organization with a history that began right in New York State. In 1872, the first group of Shriners met in a home in Manhattan. They were a group of Free Masons, who wanted to share times and memories with their families. Since then, the organization has grown to be one of international proportions.
What made the group of men in red fezzes famous, though, were the hospitals that they began in 1922. In Shreveport, Louisiana, a group of men started the first Shiners Hospital for Children, with the goal to provide care to children with polio who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
Now, there are 22 of those hospitals. And, although polio has been stamped out, they provide state-of-the-art care for thousands of children every year.
“We offer care for orthopedic, spinal injury, burns and cleft lip and palate. And the best part is- we offer that care regardless of their ability to pay,” said past Shriner potentate John Ruff. “That includes transportation to and from hospitals as well. We pay for flights to Boston or Cincinnati (the two closest Shriners Children’s Hospitals). For serious burns, we even have a sterile environment airplane to fly them out. Your main concern at a time like that is your child, not medical expenses.”
Your main concern at a time like that is your child, not medical expenses.
- John Ruff
When Ruff says they cover everything, he means everything.
“We will put you up in a hotel or a suite in the hospital,” said Ruff. “We will feed you, provide clothes in the event you didn’t have time to pack, everything.”
The total cost for a typical trip to the Cincinnati burn unit is $14,000 for one trip. That is fully paid for by the local Shriners office in West Seneca. The West Seneca office provides care for over 3,000 children annually in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Gennesee and Niagara counties. During Ruff’s last year as potentate in 2008, the organization spent $83,000 on care.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have an insurance company looking over your shoulder,” said Ruff. “When you don’t have to pick and choose what care you can provide. We pay for the best, and we’ll pick up the tab for what the insurance companies don’t cover. We do what we want to do, we do what is best for the child.”
Throughout the 22 hospitals, the total cost of care annually runs over $850 million. That cost is funded through dues from members, fundraisers and other endowments. One such fundraising technique is the annual Shrine Circus, held at the event center at the Hamburg Fairgrounds. But the money raised there goes in a different and necessary direction.
“The money from the circus stays here,” said Ruff. “It doesn’t go to the hospitals, it goes to our headquarters. A large part of our budget is to keep our building open, because if we’re not open, there is no one for these children to call.”
The office keeps an incredibly modest staff, at only two individuals paid. The rest are volunteer, in an effort to keep overhead costs as low as possible. The circus is an annual hit, not only providing entertainment but bringing in money and showing people the faces of the organization that makes such a dramatic influence in the lives of those it affects.
The future holds great things for the Shriners, who are constantly developing and perfecting their treatment systems. They are known for superb burn care and their talented surgeons have consistently performed outstanding work on children with cleft lip and palettes.
At no cost to those whom receive care, Shriners International proves that there are still great organizations in the world who wish to make the hard times easier.