Shriners Spreading Holiday Cheer
Community Involvement that Warms the Heart
The holiday season is upon us, and Shriners around the world have been busy spreading joy and festive fun. In addition to their distinctive fezzes and charitable work, members of Shriners International are well known for their dedication to making the holidays brighter and bringing communities together through a variety of fun-filled events.
Here are just a few examples of Shriners illuminating the holidays this year:
North Pole-A-Palooza, Karem Shriners
During this holiday season in Waco, Texas, Karem Shriners hosted a coat drive at a local community event called "North Pole-A-Palooza." The coat drive benefits a local organization that takes care of homeless children, and Shriners were there donning their fezzes, collecting coats, handing out popcorn and engaging with the community.
The events center advertised the coat drive for them, which helped produce local media coverage on Shriners International, the overall reach for the community and Shriners Children's.
"We feel this type of community involvement is great, as it is a one-on-one opportunity," said Robert Barben, Oriental Guide for Karem Shriners. "We were giving free popcorn out to draw folks to us. Worked like a charm. We even had people ask about Shriners and what we do. It was great to touch the community on a pure level! We have also done several Christmas parades with several of our motorized units, including our drifters, Classic T Carts, our Love to the Rescue vehicle and our Directors Staff train!"
This was the first time Karem Shriners hosted the holiday coat drive, and it likely won't be the last.
"The event was great," said Barben. "We collected 63 new coats, which was a great success for a first-time coat drive. They were very well received!"
FEZtival of Trees, Ziyara Shriners
Ziyara Shriners of Utica, New York, has been hosting its FEZtival of Trees event since 2017, and it has quickly become the chapter's biggest fundraiser. The 2023 event was a record year for Ziyara, as they returned “home” to the Masonic Care Community where they started the event.
The FEZtival of Trees is a raffle auction, where the winner gets a uniquely decorated tree and all the presents underneath. There are also gift baskets that are part of the raffle. They sell 25 tickets for $5 and the tickets are good for both trees and baskets. They also have a 50/50 raffle and a money tree that consists of $2,000 plus lotto tickets. All trees and baskets are donated by community sponsors that consist of businesses, organizations, families and other Masonic groups. The trees come in all shapes and sizes, and over the years their sponsors have gotten very creative, creating trees out of kayaks, ladders, patio heaters, bourbon barrels and even Taylor Swift cutouts.
"We consider our FEZtival special because it’s a great way to start the holiday season," said Mike Kelly, 2021 Potentate of Ziyara Shriners. "We do not charge admission and encourage everyone just to walk around the trees for gift ideas and probably some decorating ideas, too. This year we incorporated a light show where we had all the trees synchronized to music."
The FEZtival of Trees event has greatly helped the chapter engage with their local community.
"All of our sponsors are from the community," said Kelly. "So it’s great to work with them, and we’ve been very fortunate to work with more and more every year. "
"Every year we are fortunate to have 5,500 people come through our doors, and we want it to be a fun family event and a holiday tradition. Besides the raffles, we always have some holiday cutouts, coloring books and a duck pond where kids can win some toys. We also ask Santa to pay us a visit for a few hours when he has time. We love hearing about people bringing in their family from out of town or to show off the trees. We recognize a few families that we see every year that stop in to do their holiday pictures at our event."
To learn more about the event and see additional photos, please visit uticafeztivaloftrees.com.
Christmas Party and Toy Drive, Al Malaikah Shriners
Al Malaikah Shriners of Los Angeles hosts a Christmas Party every year for their community, where they provide lunch, a toy drive and entertainment. This year's party was a huge hit, and featured the group's 10th annual toy drive. Next year will mark the 100-year anniversary of presenting this event to the community, using police organizations and motorcycle clubs around the Los Angeles area.
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