From Beneficiary to Benefactor

The thing is, serving isn’t only about doing something for your community. When a club is truly respected and well-known, the community can’t help but give back.

There’s No Place Like Home When the Granville Lions in New York learned that the community’s food pantry was running out of space in the basement of a church where they had been for 30 years, they chose to help. They did the same for the pantry as they had done for the Granville Senior Citizens Center years before. They bought them a permanent home.

The club of about 35 members in the town of 7,000 also heard that a small former church building was for sale. After two years of negotiations with the Catholic diocese, the club wrote a check for US$52,000 to purchase All Saints Hall, then transferred it to the food pantry.

Granville Area Food Pantry and Community Service is now just two doors from the senior center in another former church.

Since chartering in 1960, the Granville Lions Club has contributed more than US$1.5 million to the local community. Lion Ron Barrett, a Granville Lion since 1970, says that while the work of Lions has benefitted their community, it’s helped Lions like him as well.

Families in Monroe, Connecticut, enjoy new library space because one couple and one club – the Monroe Lions – chose to pay it forward.

“I’ve gotten a lot out of it, too,” says Barrett, who originated the pantry project. “It makes you feel good.”

Over the years the club has helped form the Granview Rescue Squad, supported the library capital fund, given out US$75,000 in high school scholarships, provided US$20,000 for the fire department’s thermal imaging camera, backed various Little League projects, spent more than US$100,000 on hearing and eye needs of residents, and donated US$70,000 to the Lions Eye Institute in Albany, NY.

The club is able to do all this by way of its unique fundraiser – buying and reselling closeout and overstocked patio furniture. In the 1960s, Robert Vanderminden, the head of the family-owned company Telescope Casual Furniture in Granville, joined Lions and set up the annual sale. Since then, Granville Lions have been buying the closeouts and overstocked items from Telescope and selling them from Lion-owned warehouses on Lion Lane. On weekends from May through August the club divides into five teams who take turns running the weekend business, and Barrett says shoppers come as far as 70 miles to buy from them.

It’s this kind of work that allows Lions to do what they do, and that’s appreciated, says the Rev. Jerry McKinney, president of the pantry board. He hopes this latest effort by Lions increases awareness of what Lions contribute to their community.

Barrett, who is 79, hopes more young people will get involved in the club.

A former church building is now a permanent home for the Granville Food Pantry and Community Service, thanks to the work of the Granville Lions in New York.

Great Expectations

Lions are all about paying it forward. But in Monroe, Connecticut, one couple and one Lions Club have uniquely extended their pay-it-forward generosity to their community for years to come.

Lion Len Berger, a club member for 51 years, tells the story of how years ago the Monroe Lions planned their evening meetings at a local restaurant where the owner required them to guarantee a minimum number of meals. On the day before each meeting he wanted to know how many would be in attendance. If the number of Lions coming fell short of the guarantee, they would contact the social director for their town to invite community members, often seniors, to join them. The Lions’ guests were told they were welcome to stay for the meeting, but certainly weren’t required to.

Among those who came several times were Charles and Lillian Wilton who would enjoy dinner and the meeting, then thank the Lions before they went home.

Years passed and things changed, including the club’s meeting spot.

Then, one day in 2012, the Monroe Lions were called to probate court. The club was named as a beneficiary in the estate of Lillian Wilton.

Charles Wilton had died in 2008 and left his estate to care for his wife. “Charlie and ‘Lil,” married for 63 years, had no children, and when Lillian died, 80 percent of the Wiltons’ more than US$3 million estate was left to be divided by seven not-for-profits in Monroe, including the Lions. The other 20 percent went to extended family members.

The Monroe Lions were taken aback. No one would describe the couples’ lifestyle as extravagant, but apparently they had also inherited money, and they chose to pay it forward.

The club formed a 501(c)(3), Monroe Lions Charities, Inc., and invested the funds. Since then the charity has annually distributed approximately 5% of the portfolio’s income and growth to other organizations and agencies, including Boy and Girl Scouts, Lions Low Vision Centers of Fairfield & New Haven Counties, and Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Services, as well as LCIF.

In 2019, the Lions took an even bigger step, donating US$93,000 to the Friends of the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, providing half the funds needed for a renovation of the library’s upper level. It now includes the Monroe Lions Club Co-op and Café with coffee and comfy chairs, a teen space, and a Makerspace.

“The community is thrilled. It’s a win-win,” says Berger. “It’s a win for the town and it’s an extremely positive representation of the Lions.”

What it does not mean is that the Monroe Lions sit back and rely on their inheritance.

“By using this investment strategy, we hope to be able to provide financial support for many years,” says Berger. “But the club and the charity are separate entities.” The club still has a pancake breakfast and a variety of activities and fundraisers. With a budget of US$8,000 to US$12,000 a year, the Monroe Lions Club supports the food pantry, funds scholarships, decorates Town Hall for the holidays, and more.