Distributing food and other aid to families in need after a natural disaster or disease epidemic was one of the Shrine's earliest philanthropic activities.
From its earliest days the Shriners were known for their philanthropic efforts across the country.
During a yellow fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Fla., members of the new Morocco Shrine and Masonic Knights Templar worked long hours to help the sick. In 1889 Shriners came to the aid of the Johnstown, Pa., flood victims. In fact, by 1898 there were 50,000 Shriners, and 71 of the 79 temples were engaged in some sort of philanthropic work.
By the early 1900s the fraternity was growing quickly. And as the fraternity was growing, so was the support for establishing an official charity. Most temples had local philanthropies and sometimes the Shriners' organization offered aid. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake Shriners sent $25,000 to help the fallen city. Shriners contributed $10,000 for the relief of European war victims. But neither of these efforts, nor the projects of individual temples, satisfied the membership.
The idea to establish hospitals for children was brought to the membership in 1919 by Freeland Kendrick (P.I.P., Lu Lu Shriners, Philadelphia) after he visited a Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Atlanta. This visit made Kendrick aware of the overwhelming need to care for children with orthopaedic disorders.
During his tenure as Imperial Potentate in 1919 and 1920, Kendrick traveled more than 150,000 miles, visiting a majority of the 146 Shrine temples and campaigning for an official philanthropy to be established.