Freemasons of British Columbia and Yukon care about those who are fighting cancer. On April 6, 1989, they committed to raise one million dollars for, and launched, the Cancer Car Program in the Lower Mainland. This has since expanded to Vancouver Island (1991) and the Thompson-Okanagan area of the Interior (1998) as Cancer Treatment Centres were established.
These freemasons collectively launched the program to enable cancer patients to get to treatment centres with a minimum amount of difficulty. In 1988 a committee was struck. They approached the Canadian Cancer Society with the idea that a volunteer driver would pick patients up from their homes and take them to a treatment centre and back again, or, in the case of out-of-town patients, from the airport, ferry terminal or bus depot to the Cancer Lodge or other accommodation near the Cancer Clinic. This was to be at no cost to either the patient or the Cancer Society.
Every freemason in the Grand Lodge jurisdiction contributes annually an assessed amount towards the capital fund to purchase and replace the sixteen vehicles currently in use. This assessment also pays for the fuel, insurance and maintenance of the vehicles. Cellular telephones in each vehicle and the airtime are donated and all donations are gratefully received by the Masonic Community Charities Fund, which administers the programme.
Currently the freemasons cover an area that includes Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby and New Westminster on the Lower Mainland (seven vehicles); from Campbell River to Victoria on Vancouver Island (five vehicles); and from Kamloops to the USA border in the Interior (four vehicles as of April 1, 2004). There are approximately 500 volunteers in the three areas, some 15% of whom are non-masons.
Since the inception of the programme, volunteers have driven over nine million kilometres. In the Lower Mainland they work shifts from 7:00 am to noon, or from noon to 5:00 pm once a week. In other areas, where a trip might take most of the day, once a month is the average shift. Dispatchers also work regular shifts in the Vancouver and Kelowna dispatch offices.
Most volunteers simply want to do something worthwhile, when they have time available, and in doing so achieve great self-satisfaction. The care and compassion given to patients makes them feel at ease, without initiating discussion of what the patient is going through. Sensitivity is the key.
The walls of the Vancouver and Kelowna dispatch offices are covered with thank-you cards, and patients often bring cookies and cakes to the offices to be shared by the volunteers.
The reputation of the Freemason’s Volunteer Driver Project has spread through the Cancer Societies in North America as well as the masonic fraternity on this continent and in Europe. In 1992 the National Board of Directors of the Canadian Cancer Society awarded the Freemasons of British Columbia & Yukon the Citation of Merit Award. So successful is the programme that requests have been received from fraternities in both Canada and the United States who wish to start similar programmes in their areas.
Those wishing information on transportation to the various treatment centres should call one of the following telephone numbers:
Greater Vancouver: +1-604-872-2034
Vancouver Island: +1-800-663-7892
Thompson-Okanagan: +1-250-712-1101 (Kelowna)
If you wish to volunteer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website or email Cancer Car Volunteers.