Many people think Freemasonry is a secret society people join for personal gain, but that's not the case, says the leader of the organization's Manitoba chapter.
"Freemasonry is about improving the character of men," said Doug Webster, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. "It makes good men better."
While it does not exist to be a service organization, one of the three tenets of Masonry, along with faith and hope, is charity.
The key way the Grand Lodge of Manitoba has chosen to practise charity is by partnering with the Manitoba division of the Canadian Cancer Society's transportation service.
Five days a week, Masons in Winnipeg and Brandon provide subsidized rides for people receiving cancer treatment. The service helps ensure finances and distance aren't a barrier to treatment for Manitobans in more than 50 communities.
Ken Butchart, who started volunteering as a driver when the Grand Lodge of Manitoba first partnered with the cancer society in 1983, said driving patients to treatment is one way he can fight cancer.
"It hits everyone," said Butchart, a retired supervisor with the Canadian National Railway, whose wife, Mary, is a breast cancer survivor. "This is my way of trying to help eradicate this terrible disease."
The Masons are key partners in the service, which has other volunteer drivers as well.
The cancer society has five vans in Winnipeg, four of those purchased with money donated by the Masons, and two vans in Brandon, both purchased with money Masons donated.
Last year, the seven vans made more than 30,000 patient trips totaling about 655,000 kilometres. Thirty-three Mason drivers contributed to those numbers by providing more than 5,400 volunteer hours.
For Ted Jones, the highlight of driving one day each week is meeting the patients.
"You listen to their stories and you become a part of them," said Jones, who spent 36 years in the military and then worked for figure-skating organizations before retiring. "It's just good to feel that you've been of some help to somebody."
Mark McDonald, the executive director of the cancer society's Manitoba division, said the transportation service is important because it helps patients reduce their anxiety, cope with their cancer and reduce their transportation costs.
It also makes them feel supported.
"Cancer treatment is a fight, and whether it's chemo or radiation, getting to treatment is a challenge," McDonald said.
"These volunteers that drive are amazing people. They really help."
Patients appreciate the support, and the Masons appreciate the opportunity to help. Butchart recalled receiving a small gift of Hershey's Kisses from a patient this past Christmas as a token of thanks.
"To get a little present like that was huge," Butchart said. "It was as good as a pot of gold."
Last month, the Grand Lodge of Manitoba signed an agreement with the cancer society to keep volunteering for at least another five years.
Webster's wish is a cure for cancer is found before then.
"That's always the hope," he said.
If you know a special volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.