The Freemasons of Towson's Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 116 Charitable Foundation have donated more than $8,000 toward supporting students in need at four Towson-area high schools.
Towson, Dulaney, Loch Raven and Parkville high schools each will receive a $2,000 grant toward initiatives aimed at helping to feed students in need and stocking necessities rooms that also serve those students.
"Traditionally, Masons don't do things in a grandiose or splashy way, but this time we realized that our contribution would help raise awareness to the need at these schools," foundation president Gregory Jones said, adding that taking the lead might help others decide to make sustaining contributions.
The Freemasons are a worldwide fraternal organization with roots that date to the 1600s. The Towson lodge was instituted in 1865; its present building, at 507 W. Chesapeake Ave., was dedicated in 1972, according to the lodge's website.
The grants will cover necessities such as clothing, toiletries and educational supplies, as well as support existing food initiatives, Jones said. School officials will be able to exercise discretion in allocating supplies.
The lodge began distributing the money this month. The foundation will review how the grants are used at the end of the school year to determine future grant amounts, Jones said.
"We wanted the money to go directly to benefiting the kids that struggle to stay in school because of socioeconomic reasons, so we're making a sustaining commitment to that," Jones said.
Jones, whose sons attended Loch Raven High School and whose daughter attends Towson High School, said he heard of food insecurity at Loch Raven when his oldest sons attended a fundraiser for the Loch Raven Network. The nonprofit organization, which assists students in need at Loch Raven and Parkville High Schools, will receive donations on behalf of the two schools.
The nonprofit was created in 2016 to help low-income and homeless students and their families, according to its website.
"We have been overwhelmed with the generosity," said Caryn Putchat, Loch Raven High School's social worker. "It's a wonderful donation as a one time thing, but the fact that they're willing to continue is going to make a real difference for our students. "
The support room "takes an immediate stressor away," Putchat said. "If we're able to provide something like food or toiletries or clothing, it allows them to breathe more easily."
About 24 students or family members a month use the network's student support room at the school, which is stocked with toiletries, non-perishable food, school supplies, clothing and household items for students or families to access by appointment, Loch Raven Network president Laurie Taylor-Mitchell said.
The network spends about $250 a month stocking the room, she said.
"High school students can be self-conscious about taking or accepting help," Taylor-Mitchell said. "It's difficult for them to do that sometimes, but as the word gets out the room is being used more and more."
Towson and Dulaney High Schools' parent-teacher organizations are the administering recipients for the grants those schools will receive.
The foundation's donation will help keep Towson High's Food for Thought program going into the 2017-18 school year, said Towson PTSA president Cheri Pegues, who brought the countywide food supplement program to Towson High last fall. Through a partnership of the PTSA and Towson Presbyterian Church, the volunteer-run program provides a free bag of food each Friday to students identified by school officials as in need.
Loch Raven High School also participates in the Food for Thought program.
"We find it's made a big difference to the students who have had the program," Pegues said. "They feel much less worried about the weekend and whether they'll have food to eat. It gives them a basic level of assurance, which lets them concentrate on being a teenager, doing their homework and excelling in school."
For students battling food insecurity, receiving food can be the difference between the student achieving academically or not, explained Pegues.
"If you don't have your basic needs met for food, shelter and safety it's very difficult to achieve anything else, especially studying and doing well in school," Pegues said, adding that students who qualify for free or reduced lunch may not know where their next meal is coming from.
Food for Thought serves 14 homeless and needy students at Towson High at a cost of about $500 per student, per year, Pegues said.
"Not many people are aware that we have that kind of poverty in Towson," Pegues said. "It's a vitally important program and it's just so important to raise awareness. If people in the community who have great abundance are willing to donate just a little, everyone can come together and take care of these students who need extra help."