While the funds had already landed in the bank accounts of the groups that benefited from the support, it was the first time Freemason Foundation Victoria chair Rod Lavin got to see the result of the contributions first hand.
He travelled four hours from Traralgon to inspect projects the Freemasons had supported, along with foundation director John Patterson, who had a similarly long drive, and executive officer Neil Cripps.
They had been working from afar with John Glover, a senior Freemason who is originally from Rochester and is now a member of the Echuca lodge, to not only choose worthy organisations, but to also co-ordinate the dispersal of funds.
Rochester Cemetery, where 400 graves were filled with water as a result of the October floods, received a $10,000 contribution to cover excavation and repair works.
Rochester Primary School received a $25,000 injection to help outfit its new Wellbeing Centre and Rochester Community House benefited from a $50,000 contribution from the Victorian Freemasons Foundation.
The school is converting a classroom into an area that students can use for “quiet time” and to escape the pressures associated with disrupted home lives which, for many, remain in a caravan setting
The Freemasons’ generosity did not stop there, a truckload of especially made woollen blankets (300 in fact, worth $30,000) accompanying the executive members of the Freemasons’ charity arm visit to Rochester.
Long-time Cemetery Trust secretary Wyn Hodgens said grave sites from the past four years had suffered badly from the floods and families were horrified to discover they had sunk more than a metre as a result.
Almost immediate funding support saw the repairs made by Rochester excavation expert Brett Wileman less than two weeks after the floodwater had receded.
“They were not only refilled, but landscaping work was done and you would not have known they were flooded only a couple of weeks afterward,” Mrs Hodgens said.
She said while the cemetery trust was insured, to a degree, the timely financial support of the Freemasons had allowed the work to be done immediately.
“There were a lot of very upset families, it was a horrible sight. We are so grateful that the Freemasons were able to support us and restore the lawn cemetery to its original condition,” she said.
While Rochester no longer has its own lodge, closing as a result of the 2011 floods, former members remain part of the organisation through the Echuca group.
Those members affected by the floods also received financial support from the foundation, which started way back in 1889 with a 500-pound contribution from a man named William Clarke.
Foundation chair Mr Lavin said lodge members had received $50,000, varying amounts depending on their situation, in financial support from the organisation.
The original 500 pounds that started the Foundation has now ballooned out to an enormous $60 million that the philanthropic organisation distributed to worthy individuals and organisations in Victoria every year (averaging $2.5 to $3 million annually).
The Rochester grants were part of almost $750,000 in flood-relief commitments that Freemasons Foundation Victoria and Freemasons Victoria made to the recovery effort.
Melbourne-based FareShare, Australia’s largest charity kitchen, received $50,000 for their emergency relief program, which includes delivering cooked meals to Rochester families.
Rochester Community House’s $50,000 has been used, so far, for emergency relief, including the purchase of heaters, clothes dryers and blankets to increase comfort of families through the winter.
The 300 blankets delivered last week will be distributed directly to displaced community members living at the Elmore Field Day site.
Mr Lavin said the foundation and Freemasons Victoria was committed to rebuilding the Victorian communities hit by floods.
“We have seen, first-hand, the devastating impact that these floods have had on so many Victorians. Our vision is a healthier and stronger Victoria, so we knew we had to provide whatever support we could to these communities,” Mr Lavin said.
“The grants are going to groups on the ground that are providing support to the people who need it most.
“We’re honoured to be able to support these community programs and organisations as they continue to deal with the impacts of the floods.”
Mr Glover said the focus has been on finding projects that were having a direct and immediate impact on those who have been affected by the floods.
“Each of these community-led programs will use the grant funds in a way that will directly benefit flood victims and provide them with vital resources,” Mr Glover said.
Rochester Community House’s Amanda Logie said staff and volunteers of the Mackay St facility had been incredible.
“Through the generosity of people like the Freemasons, and many others, we have been able to supply much needed products to people living in uncomfortable situations during the winter,” Ms Logie said.
“We were even able to think outside the square and used part of this money to recognise the work of our town’s hairdressers, among others.”
She described the hairdressers as “accidental counsellors” and each recieved $1000 in support of their businesses.
“Hair is the last thing on many people’s mind, especially if they are having problems with insurance and money,” she said.
“We are doing as much as we can for as many people as we can. The blankets will be a wonderful gift to those people when they go back into their homes.”