SOMERS, N.Y. - For almost a century, Lions Clubs International has quietly come to the aid of people in need. The Somers chapter is no exception.
In existence only half as long as their global organization, the Lions of Somers have been no less committed to the notion that neighbors help neighbors in need, quietly and anonymously.
But in a program that was rolled out last Friday at its 50th anniversary gala, the Somers Lions Club will begin to recognize—formally, if still anonymously—the generous contributions of people who will henceforth be known simply as “Somers Angels.”
“We have established the Somers Angels program, where individuals and organizations can donate $250, $500, $1,000 or higher,” the club’s Finance Committee chairman, Gary Forbes, said. The program, approved by the Lions board last month, represents “a new, unique way of soliciting donations, granting small wishes and publicizing the program for neighbors to help neighbors,” he said.
When a donor’s money has bailed out someone in desperate straits, the contributing Angel will be notified immediately. Both donor and recipient will be anonymous.
Founded in 1917 as a humanitarian service organization, Lions Clubs International today has well over a million members in some 45,000 chapters worldwide, all of them pledged to observe the Lions’ enduring motto, “We Serve.”
In Somers, where membership tops 110, that service has manifested itself primarily in small-scale financial assistance—an average outlay of $500 to $1,000—to help residents in a temporary bind.
“We are called upon quite often to help with acute financial needs: Broken-down cars, food gift cards, fill oil tanks, take care of home zoning infractions, etc.,” Forbes said. “We have never let anyone down that I am aware of.”
Alerted to instances of need from a variety of sources, both informal and institutional, the Lions respond in a variety of ways, including where appropriate with donated services and expertise, finding reduced pricing and dipping into deep pockets to pay necessary expenses. “We respond very quickly, sometimes right away or within hours,” Forbes said.
The Lions do not give cash directly, instead providing shopping help like the food cards or picking up the tab for things like auto repairs.
The caseload varies. “There are some months we don’t have anything,” Forbes recalled, “and then…you have three in one day. Urgent requests.”
Donations to the Lions’ charitable fund, all of them tax-deductible, directly benefit a number of local charities, including Friends of Karen, Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Heeling Autism program, Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Vacation Camp for the Blind, Camp Sunshine, the YMCA, Somers Senior Citizens and the Scouts. The club also awards four scholarships annually to Somers High School graduates.
But the Angels program, with its immediate feedback when a donor’s money is put to good use, is expected to feel closer in spirit to the community helping hands of yore.
“When I talk to people,” Forbes said, “whether they’re Lions or not, about some of the things we get involved in, they ask, ‘How can I help? How can I get involved?’”
Questions like that inspired the Somers Angels initiative. “We know there are individuals in our community who would like to gain the satisfaction of participating in this needed service,” Forbes said. The Angels program, with its specified donation levels and the notification given to each benefactor, not only acknowledges receipt of a contribution but also “personalizes it, even though [donors remain] anonymous.”
“Donors will be anonymous to the recipient, and vice versa,” Forbes said. “However, we will report to the donor immediately upon releasing their donation.”
While the Somers community over the years has been generous in supporting the Lions’ efforts, demand continues to grow and, in tough times, money does not buy what it once did.
“Years ago a $250 food card would go a long way,” Forbes noted. “Nowadays, not so much. A tank of oil [is a] minimum $600 and so on.”